San Joaquin County’s drive to test more people for COVID-19 reached a bit farther on Wednesday with a portable clinic for the homeless encampment at El Pescadero Park.

Joan Singson, population health management director for the San Joaquin County Clinic, said that the community effort that led the clinic to Tracy involved the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, Tracy Community Connections Center, the United Way and the city of Tracy.

“We collaboratively identified different encampments. We started in Stockton doing testing for the three biggest shelters, and then from there we had known that we wanted to also go into the encampments to see what’s happening. Our concern is that if we have one positive test, it’ll spread like wildfire,” Singson said. “We’re looking at identifying that one person, if there is one, and immediately doing intervention, proving the medical support that person needs.”

She added that those living on the streets, in parks and in other camps are vulnerable to illness, but after about a month of testing people in camps around Stockton, Singson said test results are encouraging.

“So far we’ve been lucky,” she said. “We’ve done 244 tests so far. I have results for 217 of those, all negative, and we’ve done Lodi, Stockton, and now Tracy.”

The clinic tested 11 people on Wednesday and provided meals to those who went to the portable clinic for the test. Results were expected in two days.

Dr. Elyas Parsa from the San Joaquin County Clinic did the actual tests, inserting a long swab through each patient’s nasal cavity to the back of the throat, and medical assistant Edith Ramos collected and labeled the samples for testing. The whole process took place under a shade tent with folding tables, with samples collected in a small cooler while a couple of other staff members kept track of patient information.

“It takes the whole team. There’s the whole-person care, there’s the medical assistance, there are the outreach workers from behavioral health. It’s not just one individual doing this,” Parsa said. “The doctor is one small piece in all of that. We have a whole team in the hospital, family medicine residents in the San Joaquin County family medicine residency program, that actually follow up on all of these tests and make sure the results go back if there’s positive results, that people then get contacted, and their immediate contacts are traced.”

San Joaquin County had recorded 842 cases of COVID-19 in the county as of Wednesday, a 14.9% increase over the week before; 639 of those people have fully recovered. The week ending May 23 saw the largest number of new confirmed cases (91) since the week ending April 11 (122). The county has recorded 35 deaths from COVID-19 since March 26, including one death in the past week. There have been 176 patients hospitalized in the county, including 14 who were still hospitalized as of Thursday. (Find the latest numbers, updated daily, on the San Joaquin County COVID-19 Dashboard.) 

Parsa said the clinic has learned that testing for the virus could be just the start of how the county checks the health of people living without shelter.

“We hope we can do some other outreach. Not just COVID-19, but TB screening and some other types of outreach in the future, continuously going out to the encampments,” he said, adding that the clinic can do education as well as testing.

Also on hand for Wednesday’s portable clinic was San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, who said that health screening is a good first step to connecting those who provide county services with those without shelter.

“We’ve learned about what resources are needed out here and how we can get them connected to those resources,” Verber Salazar said.

“A lot of people are distrustful of agencies, support services, whether it’s legitimate or the word on the street. This being here restores that credibility, gives us that connection,” she added. “Sometimes it will be 20 or 30 contacts before we can get them to come in, so this is credibility because we came to them.

“We hope to continue from this, learn from it, and then provide more services here that are going to help build those relationships to get people to come back into the emergency and transitional housing, and then hopefully get them into permanent housing.”

Among the others at the park to express support for the county’s efforts were Tracy City Council members Rhodesia Ransom and Dan Arriola, who make up the council’s ad hoc committee addressing homelessness. Ransom said she supported the idea of bringing a portable clinic to Tracy’s encampments, but it turned out that the county was a step ahead of her.

“I reached out to the district attorney to see if they could set up testing out here, and she already had it in the works, and she invited me,” Ransom said.

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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