Kim Rhoads helps bring COVID testing to Black community

Umoja pop-up COVID-19 testing site

As COVID-19 surged through the Black community, Kim Rhoads, MD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, shifted her focus to bring testing and information to the Black community by mobilizing pop-up testing sites in the neighborhoods where people lived and utilizing a community-based model to build trust and impart information.

Rhoads began with testing pop ups in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point and Sunnydale neighborhoods in San Francisco, and is continuing the sites in Oakland with Umoja Health, a partnership with Friends of Frank, Oakland Frontline Healers, Brotherhood of Elders Network, Roots Clinic, Life Long Medical, Adamika Village, Alameda County Public Health Department, the Oakland Mayor’s office, Samuel Merritt University, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, Renegade Bio and UCSF School of Medicine. The need is urgent as the Black community has the highest case mortality rates, with the highest of those being African American men.  Rhoads and Umoja are also focused on capturing who is showing up for testing and the test results, and what that shows by race and ethnicity. Testing with no-barrier to obtaining the test is offered at Roots Clinic in Oakland, which has an 80% African American patient population, but the no-barrier to obtaining a test results in many patients testing at the clinic from outside the area.  In contrast, Umoja pop-up testing sites are testing mainly African Americans from within the community.

Umoja focuses on getting resources and information into the Black community by leveraging connections within the community itself to achieve this.  “When people’s neighbors are knocking on their doors and saying, hey, come on out and get tested, people are more responsive, “said Rhoads.  The community chooses testing pop-up sites, using census tracks with high percentages of African Americans, and then on-the-ground mobilizers select locations that are commonly used by the community.  The mobilizers who decide the sites and canvass the neighborhood encouraging residents to get tested and learn more about COVID-19 are largely African American men.  The Umoja community debriefs on a weekly zoom meeting covering the successes and failures of their previous pop ups; reviewing data about who was served and hear vaccine and other updates from the county health department, all of which expand the collective education about COVID-19 which they then share with their community networks.

“People are willing to get tested and talk with Umoja representatives about considering vaccination because they don’t see people in white coats, they see everyone in an Umoja t-shirt, and it feels like everyone is on the same side. They understand that we are in this together” said Rhoads.  

Communication within the Black community has been a focus of Umoja.  Participants get access to staff from county agencies, the offices of elected officials, local providers and academic faculty. These exposures provide access to information from decision makers in a way the community seldom receives.  Institutional representation and ongoing engagement in dialogue with the community, even when there is scientific uncertainty and historical experiences make it difficult, is a big part of building trust about the vaccines themselves. “Trust develops at the pace of the relationship, the length and depth of our engagement will determine the level of trust we can earn,” said Rhoads. Rhoads believes long term engagement with community is a first and critical step to achieving health equity, not just in COVID-19, but in other diseases plagued by historical inequities in care and disparities in outcomes.


Kim Rhoads, MD, MS, MPH

Dr. Rhoads' background and scholarly work crosses the full cancer continuum from basic science (endothelial cell regulation and angiogenesis); to clinical care as a colorectal surgeon; through health services research in cancer disparities; and training in health policy (as a California Endowment Scholar in Health Policy at Harvard (2005-2006), and as the inaugural UCSF Philip R. Lee Fellow in Health Policy (2007-2008)). She has formal training in community organizing at the Center for Third World Organizing in Oakland, California; and Community Based Participatory Research as a member of the first cohort of academic-community partnership teams trained by the California Breast Cancer Research Program. Before joining the faculty at UCSF, Rhoads founded the Community Outreach and Engagement program for the Stanford Cancer Institute. Rhoads views community engagement and institutional partnerships as substantive pathways to promote health equity and eliminate disparities.