Members of the community gather to help test about 22 of Calexico's homeless for coronavirus during a testing event at Border Friendship Park put on by the Brown Bag Coalition and Calexico Wellness Center on May 7. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO
CALEXICO — Homeless advocacy group the Brown Bag Coalition and Calexico Wellness Center joined to provide free coronavirus antibody testing for around two dozen transients May 7 at Border Friendship Park.
“As you know, in Imperial County, Calexico had the biggest number in coronavirus cases (170 total cases as of May 11). It’s a community effort, so what we did is get help and get resources from doctors, and the Calexico Wellness Center is the only one providing testing,” said Javier Moreno, president of the Calexico Wellness Center’s volunteer board.
“I feel extremely honored and satisfied that we have the opportunity to come; I think it’s amazing we’re able to do this,” said Wellness Center Chief Executive Officer Blanca Morales. “I think they’re (the homeless population) not really aware until you tell them survival is a priority to them, so it’s really up to us to tell them.”
Maribel Padilla, co-founder and director of the Brown Bag Coalition, said it is her group’s priority to continue to help the most vulnerable while most community programs have shut down due to COVID-19.
“What Brown Bag is doing is we’re paying for 22 tests. The thing is, that everybody forgets about the homeless and if they have it (COVID-19), and my main concern was to see if they have it,” said Padilla. “If they test positive, they acquire hotel rooms that are for homeless people right now and quarantine them in their room.”
On the afternoon of May 7, one man did come back with a positive antibody test, and Moreno was tasked with taking on his care and trying to determine whether the man had COVID or was simply a carrier. On May 12, it was determined after a confirmatory test, that the man did not presently have COVID-19.
Calexico Wellness was doing the serology antibody testing that does not confirm the virus; it only let’s someone know it they might have the antibody that resulted from a prior bout with the illness or if they are sick from any number of coronaviruses. The confirmatory tests are the PCR swab tests.
Padilla said the homeless man underwent confirmatory testing at Dr. Tien Tan Vo’s clinic May 8 in Calexico and was awaiting results.
Brown Bag paid for four days in a local hotel/motel to quarantine the man and Spread the Love Charity, another homeless advocacy group, paid for an additional two days until it could be determined what to do with the man.
Meanwhile, Brown Bag Coalition provided food and beverages for the homeless individuals who arrived to get tested May 7, as well as provided more information about COVID-19. Brown feeds the homeless of Calexico daily at Border Friendship Park.
“We mainly take care of Calexico, but if you notice, all these agencies get money but all these places are closed … Brown Bag Coalition gets donations from the county and I choose to put myself in danger, “ Padilla said. “If I am not an advocate, nobody is. I can’t shut my doors because everyone is doing it.”
Prior to the Calexico man coming back positive, Moreno spoke about the need to help the homeless affected by COVID and the need to find hotels that will participate in sheltering them during this pandemic.
“The homeless population are already vulnerable, so many of them know their immune system is compromised, and we want to let them know that we are here for them, and it’s interesting what the day brings because we don’t know if we’ll have a positive case,” said Moreno.