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Faith leaders push for state, federal government to expand COVID-19 testing to Florida's HBCUs

Members of the Statewide COVID-19 Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce plan to write to Gov. DeSantis and President Biden.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There is a push to bring back COVID-19 testing to Florida's Historically Black Colleges and Universities - and that includes Jacksonville's Edward Waters University.

"People are dying. People are suffering. People are going to the hospital in the state of Florida,' said Rev. Dr. RB Holmes.

He is the chair of The Statewide Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce.  He believes the dangerous and deadly trends in the fight against COVID-19 could be stopped or even reversed with his solution: expanding testing at the state's HBCUs.

"They are trusted venues, where people feel comfortable going to a place that they know that know them," he told First Coast News.

Jacksonville's Edward Waters University was what Holmes describes as a trusted venue, opening as a vaccination site in early 2021.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the time it was needed for underserved communities, "The goal here is to be able to reach out to anyone who may fall through the cracks who don't necessarily have access to a retail pharmacy or not necessarily a hospital."

Holmes says FAMU's testing site in Tallahassee has been a model in how HBCUs could slow the spread of the virus, which has seen more than 500,000 people get tested.

He wants three other HBCU campuses to open their doors for what he says could be life-changing care.

Numbers from Florida's Department of Health show 10,474 African Americans have died from COVID in the state, with a vaccination rate of 40%.

Holmes says that needs to be improved.  "That means that something is extremely missing. What is missing is a robust, aggressive boots on the ground campaign," he said.

Holmes plans to write to the governor and the president asking for help. He is planning a news conference Friday at 11 a.m. at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee.