West Chicago church launches COVID-19 testing to reach hard-hit Latino communities

Chicago News

St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago is a multicultural, bilingual congregation that reflects the community’s diversity, its pastor says.

So when leaders of the city’s COVID-19 response were looking to open a testing center that would reach Latino residents, they knew the parish would meet the need.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

“The big part of the reason why we wanted to do it here is that people already feel safe coming to St. Andrew,” the Rev. Josh Ebener said.

His church is now hosting a mobile testing unit run by VNA Health Care twice a week, removing some of the barriers to testing in one of DuPage County’s hardest-hit communities.

Ebener and state Rep. Karina Villa, a West Chicago Democrat, have pushed for increased access to testing and safety protections for essential workers to address disparities laid bare by the pandemic.

Latinos, who make up more than half of West Chicago’s population, are disproportionately suffering from COVID-19. So far, at least 766 people in West Chicago have tested positive for the virus — the second-highest total in the county.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

“The cases that we’ve had here at our parish and other cases I’ve heard about in town can almost all be traced back to the workplace and particular factories here locally that have seen outbreaks,” Ebener said.

Just before the testing center opened to its first patients, Villa encouraged anyone who wants to get tested to make an appointment with VNA to come to the church at Geneva and Prince Crossing roads. Testing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“In the Latino community, many times you have some fears about where to go and how to access care sometimes because of documentation status,” said Villa, delivering her message in Spanish and English. “Other times because of a lack of health insurance status, and other times just for the fear of the stigma.”

But the church, Villa said, is a “trusting place.”

“It has opened their doors to provide food, provide resources, provide a shoulder to cry on, even if it’s at a distance during COVID,” Villa said Tuesday. “Pastor Josh has been such a wonderful person here in the community.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

VNA is able to conduct about 175 tests a month at the new West Chicago site, according to a spokeswoman.

People looking to get tested should call VNA at either (630) 892-4355 or (847) 717-6455. They will be checked by a VNA doctor or nurse practitioner before receiving the test.

VNA will provide the pretest assessment and COVID-19 specimen at no cost for people without insurance.

Testing is one part of the church’s response to COVID-19.

“For me, one of the most important things is just making sure workplaces are safe because it’s a pretty precarious situation when you’re basically asked to choose between your health and safety and being able to make ends meet,” Ebener said. “That’s the kind of the situation we have been dealing with.”

St. Andrew also is addressing food insecurity issues during the pandemic by providing groceries to families. That distribution reaches about 250 people, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.

Donations of produce, diapers and other needed items can be dropped off at the church office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

• Daily Herald photographer Mark Welsh contributed to this report.

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