This week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) launched a new program to target some communities across the state in order to test many people who might otherwise not be tested.

As part of the “High-priority And Marginalized Populations Initiative” – CHAMP for short – the state is giving at no-charge COVID-19 testing to 300 African American, LatinX/Hispanic and American Indian communities that currently have limited testing sites.

The state is focusing on these communities after revelations earlier this year that a disproportionately high percentage of North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have been among the state’s “historically marginalized populations.”

According to state health officials, recent evidence shows that members of these communities experience higher rates of COVID-19 mortality and face more serious complications if they do get the disease.

“Increasing access to free testing is key to our ability to respond to and contain COVID-19,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. in a press release announcing the CHAMP program. “This targeted testing initiative seeks to confront historical health disparities by increasing COVID-19 testing capacity in underserved communities across the state.”

As many as 300 testing sites will be set up this month. Those will include drive-thru and walk-up sites. The state has selected two vendors to begin this work, Vidant Health and Orig3n, Inc. Both will set up new, no-cost testing sites to the communities identified by NCDHHS.

According to the press release announcing CHAMP, the program will increase testing capacity in more than 100 ZIP codes and will offer access to testing for 2.2 million African American, LatinX/Hispanic and American Indian individuals.

Residents of the selected areas face a higher risk of getting the coronavirus for reasons that include “close proximity of housing, challenges to practice social distancing, occupational exposure and barriers in transportation, as well as historical obstacles to access health care, a concentration of unmet health needs and chronic disease burden.”

Many front-line and essential workers are from historically marginalized populations and face even higher risk of exposure to infection since they’re over-represented in industries deemed as essential workers.