O’Hare, Midway to offer COVID-19 testing for travelers, airport employees

Coronavirus testing inside the airport terminals could begin late next week.

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A traveler wears a mask as she walks through Terminal 3 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020.

Travelers and airport employees will be able to use walk-up coronavirus testing sites at O’Hare and Midway airports.

AP file

Air travelers and employees at O’Hare and Midway airports will have access to two types of tests for the coronavirus under a program unveiled Tuesday touted as the “most comprehensive offered by any airport system in the nation.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration on Tuesday chose Doctors Test Centers and its joint venture partner, Simple Laboratories, to provide the testing program at both airports. The goal is to start testing employees and travelers late next week.

Many international destinations require proof of a negative PCR or polymerase chain reaction test. The PCR test is considered more accurate but takes longer to process. Travelers are expected to receive those results within 72 hours.

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Rapid antigen tests can be less accurate, but results are available within 20 minutes.

The cost of tests was capped at $150 by the city, and the rapid test is expected to cost about $15 less, Aviation Department spokesman Matt McGrath said.

“It’ll be point-of-care [payment]. You provide insurance or pay cash. It’s like going to a clinic,” McGrath said. “If employees are covered by a city plan, they’ll be able to use their insurance.”

At O’Hare, a walk-up testing site will be located adjacent to the terminal core before passengers pass through the security checkpoint. A drive-up facility will be located at a remote parking lot.

Tests will be administered only to those who can show proof they work at the airport orhave a ticket to fly within 72 hours or flew into Chicago no more than five days earlier.

The Midway terminal will also have a walk-up testing site for both tests.

Doctors Test Centers, formed early in the pandemic by a group of surgeons and other health care providers, expects to hire more than 100 people to staff its airport testing centers.

Last month, City Hall announced plans to create a new permanent coronavirus testing site in a parking lot adjacent to Midway Airport.That site is open to the public and is separate from the walk-up site inside the terminal.

Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said she’s “proud to present the most comprehensive COVID-19 testing program of any airport system in the nation.”

“With two types of tests available at both airports, as well as our strict adherence to public health guidelines requiring face coverings and social distancing throughout the terminals, we aim to provide the traveling public and the wider airport community with a safe environment and peace of mind,” Rhee said in a news release.

McGrath portrayed the decision to offer both tests as a critical step toward creating the peace of mind needed to restore travel to something close to pre-pandemic levels.

“For a while now, it’s been something people have requested or expressed interest in. A number of foreign destinations are requiring tests. The state of Hawaii is requiring a negative test. It’s certainly something there’s a need for ... and we want to be able to provide that,” he said.

“What are the things that are gonna lead to travel returning? This is a [key] ingredient.”

Towards that end, American Airlines, O’Hare’s second-largest carrier, announced Tuesday plans to expand access to at-home testing for all flights to U.S. cities that have COVID-19 restrictions, including Puerto Rico.

Starting Dec. 9, $129 PCR test kits will be available for purchase for travel starting Dec. 12 through American’s at-home testing partner, LetsGetChecked.

If the destination requires video observation of the test, an employee of the testing company will be made available to do just that.

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