Those who have access to personal vehicles can easily drive to coronavirus testing sites in the area.
In the Historic Triangle, those who don’t own vehicles are forced to rely on the local public transportation system to get to and from places. But for people needing to get tested for the virus, even that option is limited.
“Transportation is a huge barrier in our community,” said Allison Brody, director of community engagement for the Williamsburg Health Foundation. “And the fact that a lot of volunteer transportation systems can’t happen right now is also problematic for people.”
The Williamsburg Area Transit Authority has continued to operate for free during the pandemic so people without access to transportation have a way to get to places such as work and the grocery store, said Michele Canty, spokeswoman for WATA.
WATA is also offering the service for asymptomatic carriers and those going to get antibody testing, Canty said. With asymptomatic carriers, she said WATA is asking them to wash their hands before riding, to wear a mask and avoid contact with surfaces and others.
“So sharing [the service] with everyone else, we’re in this balancing act of trying to balance public safety but also provide a public service for those that are low-income and need to get to a testing site,” she said. “Those who don’t have symptoms can practice social distancing and can perhaps get to and from a testing site for free using WATA…[We’re trying] to balance that caution while not locking out an entire group of people.”
Canty said WATA officials think testing is important, so even if someone is asymptomatic and finds out they’re positive, then they can take the steps to isolate themselves and get better.
But at the same time, WATA has asked those with coronavirus symptoms not to ride public transportation.
“We urge them to find another mode of transportation to get to the doctor’s office,” Canty said. “We’re worried because the virus is so contagious so we’re trying to keep that risk as low as possible for drives and passengers.”
However, Canty said she’s not sure of any other transportation service available to those needing to get tested for the virus.
But in some areas, there are those who don’t have other means of transportation.
Katie Patrick, executive director of Grove Christian Outreach Center, said volunteers with the organization deliver food and resources to approximately 30 homes, most of which don’t have access to transportation.
She said hasn’t heard of anyone in the area requesting transportation to testing locations because there haven’t been any individuals in Grove experiencing symptoms.
If someone were in need of transportation, she would direct them to James City County Social Services.
Officials in James City County and the city of Williamsburg said they don’t currently have any transportation options available and aren’t aware of other services.
Renee Dallman, spokeswoman for James City County, said the county’s fire department has not received any calls from the public requesting rides and neither have several community organizations.
“We really aren’t hearing of a need in the community,” she wrote in an email.
Larry Hill, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health Eastern Region, said the department also isn’t currently running any programs to get people to testing centers. He said he has heard of agencies offering the service, but individuals have to search for them on their own.
Additionally, the Virginia Department of Transportation said they don’t oversee or offer any public transit services because the department is mainly responsible for maintaining and operating state roads bridges and tunnels, said Brittany McBride Nichols, communications specialist for VDOT.
Canty said WATA is constantly reevaluating its operations to provide the best and safest public transportation for people.
“We don’t want to get to the point where people who don’t have a car can’t get tested, but WATA is running a great deal of risk just by offering an essential service,” she said. “I feel like we’re in a hard position, It would be great to take everyone to get testing but it just doesn’t work that way when there are other factors to take into account”
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