Coronavirus & Free Clinics

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Playing an Important Role

As Virginia continues to reopen while trying to avoid a resurgence of the coronavirus, the state’s network of free clinics is playing a pivotal role. By screening and testing for COVID-19 in addition to meeting the ongoing health care needs of uninsured patients, free clinics are preventing the escalation of the virus, reducing unnecessary emergency room (ER) visits and preserving hospital capacity. What’s more, free clinics continue to provide an invaluable range of services that go well beyond primary medical care. These include dental, pharmaceutical and behavioral health services, as well as programs addressing social determinants of health such as food insecurity and a lack of transportation. 

Flattening the Curve

At the outset of the pandemic, free clinics quickly responded, implementing telemedicine and other strategies to monitor their patients’ conditions, while also safely screening and referring individuals for COVID-19 testing. Currently, many clinics now are conducting onsite testing, often in collaboration with their local health departments and hospitals. Additionally, free clinics serve as trusted sources of vital COVID-19 public health information and education to vulnerable populations.

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Facing Significant Challenges

Free clinics are experiencing an influx of new patients as more and more Virginians lose their jobs and their employer-sponsored health care due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. This increase in the number of uninsured comes on top of an estimated 226,000 Virginians with incomes between 139% and 300% of the federal poverty level, who had no health coverage prior to the onset of COVID-19. That’s according to the Profile of Virginia’s Uninsured, a report recently released by the Virginia Health Care Foundation/Urban Institute.

However, the free clinics’ ability to continue to meet this rising demand for their services is in jeopardy due to the pandemic. The cancellation of major fundraising events and unbudgeted expenses such as the purchase of personal protective equipment, the investment in telemedicine solutions and the hiring of staff to make up for volunteers who are staying home, have placed a heavy financial burden on the clinics. In the words of Karen Legato, executive director of the Health Brigade free clinic in Richmond: “We’re doing all we can to provide services and meet the growing needs of those in the community who are left out of public services and have few places to turn to for help right now. Life was already challenging, but when you add in the coronavirus, it just becomes overwhelming.”

What are Symptoms of Coronavirus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness. The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
If you have general questions about coronavirus in your community, contact your local department of public health (Virginia Department of Health - 800-533-4148). If you are experiencing severe respiratory distress or have a medical emergency, go to your nearest emergency room or call 911. The CDC has a self-checker you can use to help you make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care. 

What Can You do to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Coronavirus?

Follow CDC guidelines for prevention, which include:
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid close contact
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a close face cover when around others
  • Cover coughs or sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect
  • Monitor your health

A Lifesaving Investment

Working towards a Virginia where all people have access to comprehensive, quality healthcare by supporting and advocating for our member clinics so that hardworking individuals and families are protected from healthcare crises.