CVS Health expands COVID-19 testing to 14 states with a focus on serving minority communities

Once fully operational, more than half of the company’s 1,000 test sites will serve communities with large multicultural populations that have been hit particularly hard by the epidemic, the company said. (CVS Health)

CVS Health is expanding COVID-19 rapid testing sites to serve communities with large multicultural populations that have been hit particularly hard by the epidemic.

Starting Friday, the retail and pharmacy giant will open nearly 300 additional test sites across 14 states for a total of nearly 350 available test sites in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The company said it plans to establish up to 1,000 locations across the country by the end of May with the goal of processing up to 1.5 million tests per month.

The volume of testing will be subject to the availability of supplies and lab capacity, the company said.

"While the large-scale test sites we've been operating since early April have proven successful, this new approach allows us to utilize our presence in communities across the country and bring testing closer to home," said Larry Merlo, president and CEO, CVS Health, in a statement. "Our frontline employees will continue to play a critical role in the testing process, with members of their communities directly benefitting from their dedication and selflessness."

These new sites will utilize self-swab tests and mark the next phase of the company's nationwide COVID-19 testing strategy.

RELATED: CVS Health eyes adding drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, waiving early prescription refill limits

CVS Health said half of the new testing sites will serve communities with the greatest need for support, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Social Vulnerability Index. The index tracks a variety of census variables including poverty, lack of access to transportation and crowded housing that may weaken a community’s ability to prepare for and recover from hazardous events like natural disasters and disease outbreaks.

The sites have been created in collaboration with the National Medical Association, an organization of African American physicians, the company said.

The effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups is still emerging, however current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among those groups, according to the CDC.

A mid-April analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation showed that in the majority of states reporting data that include race and ethnicity, black Americans account for a higher share of confirmed cases and deaths compared to their share of the total population.

There are also gaps in access to COVID-19 testing.

In one analysis, it appears doctors may be less likely to refer African Americans for testing when they show up for care with signs of infection, Kaiser Health News reported.

In Nashville, Tennessee, three drive-thru testing centers sat empty for weeks because the city couldn’t acquire the necessary testing equipment and protective gear like gloves and masks. All of them are in diverse neighborhoods. One is on the campus of Meharry Medical College—a historically black institution, KHN reported.

RELATED: Merlo: CVS seeing massive increases in telehealth use, home prescription delivery due to COVID-19

In March, CVS Health was the first retailer to pilot drive-thru COVID-19 test sites in a parking lot at a CVS Pharmacy store in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

That pilot provided the company with a number of key lessons that helped inform the company’s ability to improve on and maximize drive-thru testing for consumers, the company said.

Walgreens also has pledged to ramp up COVID-19 testing. In late April, the company said it will open additional drive-thru testing locations in 49 states and Puerto Rico and announced a partnership with LabCorp the pharmacy chain said should triple its testing capacity.

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