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Sean Penn on hand for opening of free COVID-19 testing site at Prado Center

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — We had a celebrity sighting in Bakersfield Monday morning, but there wasn’t anything glitzy or trivial about it. Actor Sean Penn was in town on behalf of his non-profit organization to snip the metaphorical ribbon on a new, free-of-charge COVID-19 testing center.

The one thing Americans keep hearing is that we need more COVID-19 testing, and now we have it locally: Three new locations, including the Richard Prado Senior Center, where free testing will be offered starting Tuesday.

And for that, we owe our gratitude to a collection of state and local leaders and medical professionals — and to two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn whose non-profit, known as core, is trying to strengthen communities especially vulnerable to crisis.

For a decade now, CORE has pitched in to repair lives impacted by earthquakes and hurricanes, bringing relief into communities around the entire Western Hemisphere — paying special attention to the elderly and the poor.

One such place is east Bakersfield. The Prado Center, on Mount Vernon Avenue just south of Bernard, is the 10th such testing site, give or take, that Penn’s organization has helped open.

“We learn to pay attention to science on all levels, and in every way that it’s going to be” part of our lives, Penn said. “COVID-19 is not our existential threat — but we have existential threats, and in particular climate and poverty.

“And what we are seeing with COVID is in the latter category — a particular sighting on those disadvantaged. And for us to be Americans, if we’re not going to look out for the disadvantaged, and by extension ourselves, then we’re losing track of what America is based on.”

Penn says he hasn’t been paying attention to how others in the movie business might be waiting out this pandemic. All he knows is, he’s pitching in and doing his part — something he says everyone can and should be doing.

‘It really starts with the quarantine, because that’s a commitment on its own,” he said. “And when you talk about successful people in the movie business, you know, then that’s a much easier job to quarantine when you have a nice home and some money in the bank, which a lot of people don’t have.

“So whether you’re operating test sites or just being diligent in quarantining, taking care of your family and yourself, it’s all exactly the same thing — and it’s called citizenship.”

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez helped coordinate Penn’s involvement in the development of the Prado Center testing site, one of three such sites opening in Kern County this week.

“This is completely free,” she said. “Go onto the website (www.Projectbaseline.Com/study/covid-19) and make your appointment, get registered and come on in … You will get your result in record time. It’s a CDC-approved, high standard test. Get you some certainty and use our science to get us back to where we need to be to get back to work.”

Penn didn’t just bring his celebrity status to Bakersfield to kick off this testing center, he brought passion, and it was rubbing off on everyone at the Prado Center.

First responders were the first to be tested at the Prado Senior Center — that was Monday. The general public can receive free, confidential testing starting Tuesday, 8 a.m. til 2 p.m. But you must make reservations. To do so, visit www.projectbaseline.com/study/covid-19.

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