Camden County’s newest coronavirus testing site opened on Tuesday in East Camden, a neighborhood that has become the epicenter of the city’s outbreak. Within hours, close to 100 people turned up for tests — a sign, local leaders said, of the fear among residents of a community that is particularly vulnerable.
Almost 550 people in the zip code that covers East Camden have tested positive for COVID-19, more than half the city’s approximately 1,000 cases. The neighborhood is home to at least 28,500 people, according to recent census estimates, more than a third of the city’s population. At least a third of the area’s residents were born in Latin America or Puerto Rico; two-thirds of the zip code is Hispanic.
Mayor Frank Moran, a lifelong East Camden resident, said the pandemic has hit the neighborhood harder in part due to a high concentration of people who work in the food service or hospitality industries, or have other jobs that prevent them from staying home.
“These jobs put people at risk, and the numbers speak for that,” Moran said, noting that his brother, who works for the city’s Public Works Department, was recovering from COVID-19 after spending four days in the hospital. “So we thought it was of the utmost importance to provide these folks with a testing site they can access.”
In cities across the country, data shows that COVID-19 is hitting communities of color at a disproportionately higher rate. In Philadelphia, more than half the city’s coronavirus deaths have been among African Americans, though they account for only about 40% of the city’s population. In New Jersey, the full demographic information for coronavirus cases has not yet been tracked, but early data indicate that Hispanic residents make up about 29% of the state’s cases despite accounting for about 20% of the population.
The site at Dudley Grange Park is the third to open in Camden since the outbreak began. About half of those tested at Camden sites have been city residents, said county spokesperson Dan Keashen. Nineteen Camden residents have died from the illness.
County officials identified East Camden as a potential hot spot last month from data collected at other sites, and the health department opened a mobile health unit at the park almost two weeks ago that has been focused on helping families follow quarantine guidelines. Since then, close to 1,000 people have visited in search of information, said Rachel Honrychs of the health department.
County officials have handed out masks, provided information on the virus in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and delivered quarantine care packages with hand sanitizer, soap, paper plates, plastic cutlery, and puzzles to local churches to encourage people to stay home and minimize the spread.
“What we’re seeing is, one person gets it, and they may share a home with people, they may share a bathroom,” Honrychs said. “They don’t have the luxury of isolating completely. So we’re just trying to help promote safe isolating and quarantining measures.”
Camden County’s testing sites are open by appointment to those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been referred by a doctor.
Graphics editor John Duchneskie contributed to this article.