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Illinois expects to get ‘thousands and thousands’ of coronavirus tests in next few days, Pritzker says

During a news conference Wednesday in Murphysboro, the governor said obtaining testing kits has been “the biggest challenge” officials have faced while trying to beat back the spread of the virus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

As the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois continues to spike, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that the state has bolstered its ability to test for the deadly disease and is expecting to receive thousands of new testing kits in the coming days.

During a news conference in Murphysboro, Pritzker noted that he’s been calling leaders of health care companies to get a hold of supplies that “have mostly been monopolized by the federal government and delayed in their distribution.” While Pritzker said obtaining tests has been “the biggest challenge” officials have faced during the coronavirus outbreak, the recent outreach appears to be working.

“We’ve increased our testing capability,” Pritzker said. “I just heard that one of our labs today ... received the ability to do thousands more tests because of work that was done by our staff.”

He added: “It’s still not enough to be clear. You talk about thousands of tests, we need to be able to test many more people than that.”

As of Wednesday, only 2,052 people had been tested for coronavirus across the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The tests are being processed by three public labs with a combined capacity to process up to 300 kits a day, as well as private labs that have ramped up testing this week.

President Donald Trump’s administration has faced sharp criticism over its response to the worsening public health crisis, including from Pritzker, who has publicly expressed frustration that more tests haven’t been made available. Pritzker said Wednesday that his recent dealings with federal authorities have at times left him feeling like “Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football.”

After repeatedly slamming Trump over the weekend when the bungled rollout of the president’s new European travel ban left thousands of travelers at O’Hare International Airport waiting for hours for coronavirus screening, Pritzker struck a softer tone on Wednesday and appeared hopeful the resources the federal government has promised are now on the way. The governor said he expects Illinois to receive “thousands and thousands and thousands” of new tests in the next three days.

“I believe the federal government, which has been trying very hard for a long time to expand testing, is almost there,” he said. “They keep telling me that. I believe that.”

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced a new plan to expand testing by increasing the number of drive-through labs, adding more commercial labs and granting approval to more commercial tests. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giror, Trump’s COVID-19 testing czar, told reporters Monday that one million tests were already available nationwide, with millions more coming.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, Trump announced that states can now “authorize tests developed within their borders,” while Giror said authorities would be setting up 47 drive-through labs in 12 states in the coming days. Perhaps most importantly, Giror said testing has started ramping up nationwide.

“As of today, our public health laboratories, meaning the CDC and the public health labs, have reported out 31,878 tests. The clinical laboratories, the Association of Clinical Laboratories, have reported out about 27,000 tests,” said Giror, adding that the number of tests conducted by individual hospital labs hadn’t been tallied.

“Most importantly, of those 27,000 during the cumulative period of time, 8,200 of them were yesterday.”