LOS ANGELES — Getting a COVID-19 test can be an uncomfortable experience.
Giving it can be downright dangerous.
“This test makes people want to sneeze, cough," Negeen Farmand, a physician assistant at the Saban Community Clinic told Spectrum News 1. "You just always have to keep that in the back of your mind.”
Which is why before she starts swabbing, Farmand has to suit up.
“It’s uncomfortable,” she said as she layered up. “I think the worst thing is like the goggles and the N-95 it’s just tight.”
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Los Angeles County, health care workers like Farmand and her team from a nonprofit called The People Concern have been risking their lives to test as many homeless people as possible.
“Honestly, I don’t have a lot of fear at all,” Farmand said. “I get good sleep, I pray every day.”
But even as testing ramped up citywide, getting those who live on the streets to take the test has proven to be a challenge. For one, transient people are not always easy to find once the results come back.
“One of the first things we always ask when we’re doing any type of outreach is first of all, ‘Do we have a way to get a hold of you?’ If not, I will ask: 'Where can I find you?' said Kevin Simms, a program manager at The People Concern. "If they consent we always try to get a picture.”
More than 400 homeless people have tested positive for the virus in Los Angeles, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.
City officials have launched an unprecedented effort to shield 15,000 homeless people from the coronavirus by moving them into hotel rooms. The city has leased 3,510 hotel rooms across the county. Of those, 3,034 are currently occupied, according to the mayor's office.
In the last few weeks, The People Concern has been focusing on getting individuals off the streets and into hotel rooms. Should someone test positive, the group can also find them a place to quarantine.
But getting the homeless to trust authority can be tricky.
"Their life has always been about survival, having the basic necessities, food, water. They’re always walking that line so a virus is not going to freak them out," Farmand said.
Angel Martinez, who has been homeless for 10 years, was one of the persons the nonprofit tried to help. But he declined to do the test, for now.
“I told them that I wasn’t ready yet,” Martinez said.
Even so, the day has proven to be a success, with 14 people tested in just a couple of hours.
“We actually ran out of tests so we’re going to come back to this area next week,” Farmand said.