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Chicago’s fourth coronavirus testing site opening next week at Midway Airport

With the virus raging through the city in ways not seen since the onset of the pandemic, and long lines forming at testing sites, Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded by boosting Chicago’s testing capacity.

A Southwest Airlines jet at Midway Airport.
Midway Airport will soon be home to another coronavirus testing site.
Sun-Times file

Chicago will create a new permanent coronavirus testing site at Midway Airport and direct $14 million in federal grants to help community health centers expand testing and contact tracing capabilities to stop a second pandemic surge.

Chicago’s positivity rate now stands at 15.9%, up from 13.6% just a week ago. The seven-day rolling average of new cases in the city is 2,351, up 27% from a 1,853 daily average last week.

With the virus raging through the city in ways not seen since the onset of the pandemic, and long lines at testing stations, Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded by boosting Chicago’s testing capacity.

At City Hall Wednesday, Lightfoot said she has “listened to the community” that wanted more testing capacity on the Southwest Side. That’s even though the city “continues to break testing records,” by conducting more than 16,000 tests each day.

“As the weather gets colder, more and more people will be spending time indoors, meaning we must prepare to see more positive cases,” the mayor said.

“That’s why we’re here to announce a new and enhanced community-based testing plan.”

Lightfoot noted diagnostic tests are only a “snapshot in time.” They are not an invitation to ignore her stay-at-home advisory that took effect Monday.

Once again, the mayor urged Chicago families to “keep it close just in hour household” for Thanksgiving. She plans to do the same — reluctantly — by not getting together with her 92-year-old mother.

“When you’re that age, you don’t have as many days in front as you do behind. It’s gonna be very, very difficult to be celebrating the holiday without her,” Lightfoot said.

“But we’ve talked. And she understands and really told me: ‘It’s not safe. I’m gonna stay home.’”

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady underscored that message.

“Please do not confuse” access to testing with the need to stay home, the commissioner said.

“Testing only detects you once you have COVID. It is an important part of our strategy. But even more important are the things we are doing to prevent COVID here in Chicago. When you are staying home — except for work, school and other essential things. When you are not having individuals over into your home.”

The coronavirus testing center in a parking lot at Midway Airport, opening next week, will be Chicago’s fourth. It will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays, from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“This is not aimed for travelers. This is aimed for community members who live in [ZIP code] 60629 and the surrounding areas. ... That parking lot is well set up for being able to have significant drive-through. And then, we will continue to deploy additional mobile units weekly,” Arwady said.

The city has also partnered with Curative to implement a “winterization plan” to make certain testing capacity does not diminish during the cold and snowy weather months.

It includes vans, trailers, heated shipping containers and kiosks for mobile, drive-through and walk-up testing.

The city’s existing testing site at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy will move to Charles A. Prosser Career Academy to make way for in-person classes resuming in January and February. All the city’s “static” testing sites will provide both drive-through and walk-up testing.

The $14 million in federal grants were awarded to the city by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The money will help community health centers expand testing and contact tracing, through “materials, supplies, equipment and technical assistance.”

Already, the Chicago Department of Public Health has deployed over 40,000 “rapid antigen tests” to community health centers to bolster “rapid viral testing capacity.”

Arwady said Chicago is breaking testing records every day — “and we need to be,” with the current surge.