Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Mobile Response Unit made its first stops in Philadelphia this weekend, bringing free testing, information, swag, and bilingual support.

Made possible by a partnership among the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Independence Blue Cross Foundation, and Latino Connection, a multicultural marketing agency, the blue-and-white RV is known as CATE, for Community-Accessible Test and Education. It stopped this weekend at the Columbia North YMCA on North Broad Street and Concilio, a Latino community organization on Hunting Park Avenue. It had already made numerous stops elsewhere in the state.

“The CATE mobile response initiative has already made 28 stops across 15 counties where approximately 550 COVID-19 tests have been administered at no cost to our most vulnerable communities,” said George Fernandez, CEO and founder of Latino Connection. “Additionally, we’re making it accessible for people to receive free PPE items and information in both English and Spanish, which is essential for closing the divide on health disparity in Pennsylvania.”

The Community-Accessible Testing & Education truck, or CATE, in the parking lot at Concilio on Sunday. It administered COVID-19 tests to a total of 51 people in Philadelphia over the weekend.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
The Community-Accessible Testing & Education truck, or CATE, in the parking lot at Concilio on Sunday. It administered COVID-19 tests to a total of 51 people in Philadelphia over the weekend.

“Sharing knowledge to erase fear” is the motto on the mobile response unit. Its sponsors say that is important to the people who may avail themselves of its services and also members of the larger community.

Fernandez said Latinos in Pennsylvania have high rates of diabetes and asthma, which make them vulnerable to complications from COVID-19. In addition, their immigration status may make them ineligible for health insurance and afraid to seek out other help. That can increase the public health risk as well.

“This project, CATE ... doesn’t ask immigration status,” Fernandez said.

Angelico Razon, a COVID-19 containment specialist with the city health department, said the city in general doesn’t ask the immigration status of anyone who tests positive. If they are Latino, the city’s Spanish-speaking contact tracing team will reach out to them with health information like how to safely quarantine, help with getting groceries and housing if needed, and additional medical assistance if that is warranted.

On Sunday, some of the CATE staff were doing sidewalk outreach to encourage passersby to stop and get tested — a quick nose swab in each nostril. Free masks and other items were offered, too. There were no takers for the more than an hour an Inquirer reporter was there early Sunday afternoon. But Fernandez said 51 tests were administered over the weekend.

“A lot of people do get nervous because they don’t know what to expect. They want to know if it hurts,” said Ashley Latimer, 32, a nurse with Ambulnz, one of the companies doing the testing. “But a lot of people are open to it. They know what’s going on. They want to know if they’re healthy.”

CATE’s next stops will be Erie County and then Pittsburgh, said Latino Connection spokesperson Stephanie Shirley. The tour is expected to be continued, with new stops to be announced.

For other information about COVID-19 testing and services in Philadelphia, including free testing, the city hotline is 1-800-722-7112.