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The Wellness Bus Resumes Community Health Screenings After Testing for COVID-19

University of Utah Health's Wellness Bus has resumed community health screenings after testing for COVID-19 over the past ten months. When it became clear that the community was in desperate need of proactive COVID-19 testing in underrepresented communities, the Wellness Bus modified its primary mission and was outfitted for coronavirus testing. On April 3, 2020, the Wellness Bus officially joined the many University of Utah Health COVID-19 testing operations throughout the community. Since then, the Wellness Bus traveled to underserved communities to test more than 14,500 people in Utah.

Through the Utah Department of Health's COVID Community Partnership (CCP) Project, U of U Health joined the effort to help slow the spread of the virus and provide coronavirus testing in underrepresented communities. U of U Health found it important for the Wellness Bus to provide barriers-free testing: no cost and no symptoms were required to get tested for COVID-19.

From May to December 2020, the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests among racial/ethnic minority groups on the Wellness Bus was higher when compared with the rest of the state of Utah, especially for people who identify as Hispanic, Black or African American, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, according to a UDOH report.

The report also found:

  • Hispanics accounted for 37.3% of those tested on the Wellness Bus, compared to only 12.7% statewide.
  • Hispanics accounted for 50% of positive tests on the Wellness Bus, compared to 22.3% statewide.

Thanks to the relationships and trust with community-based organizations, the Wellness Bus was able to successfully test underserved populations. "The Wellness Bus was testing in locations where groups were getting hit the hardest by COVID-19, including minorities and essential workers," says Nancy Ortiz, Mobile Health Operations Manager at University of Utah Health. The Wellness Bus also assisted in testing other vulnerable populations such as the homeless, nursing home residents, and those in a residential treatment facility.

To keep up with the demand of COVID-19 testing in these communities, additional help was needed. On a peak testing day, as many as 14 health care personnel and volunteers helped facilitate two drive-through lanes to test nearly 200 people during a four-hour shift. This team included U of U Health registered nurses and medical assistants, student volunteers, and CCP Community Health Workers. "This group helped test and assist 14,500 people," says Robin Marcus, PT, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, College of Health at University of Utah. "To put that in perspective, the Wellness Bus did 3,500 screenings in 2019 for chronic testing."

The Wellness Bus is now offering FREE chronic disease screenings, including those for diabetes and prediabetes, at the Utah State Fairpark, Building # 7, from 2 ­– 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays through mid-March. Stay up to date on location and time updates on Facebook and Twitter. Appointments are not necessary. The Wellness Bus provides health education and screenings via the Driving Out Diabetes Initiative, thanks to the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation.