Coronavirus test sites added in Illinois, but Pritzker says limited capacity still ‘an enormous problem’

Though Pritzker announced that Illinois would be conducting 10,000 daily COVID-19 tests by April 8, he made it clear Monday that there still aren’t enough tests available to track the rise of the deadly disease.

SHARE Coronavirus test sites added in Illinois, but Pritzker says limited capacity still ‘an enormous problem’
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A COVID-19 drive-thru test site operated by the Illinois National Guard is now testing people over the age of 65, in addition to first responders and health care workers.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

As Illinois’ number of confirmed COVID-19 cases eclipsed 5,000 on Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said there still aren’t nearly enough tests available to track the rise of the deadly disease even as several new testing sites have opened in recent days.

“Just look at the number of tests that have been done — even in the large states — it’s minimal compared to the number of people we know already have COVID-19, or have had it and never knew it,” Pritzker said during a press briefing Monday. “And so, this is an enormous problem.”

By Monday, 5,057 of the 30,446 people tested for coronavirus in Illinois were positive, with 73 succumbing to the disease, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

As of Sunday, Illinois was running around 4,000 tests a day, double the state’s capacity for testing just five days earlier. Pritzker said then he hopes the state can start processing 10,000 daily tests by April 8 in order to get a “truly holistic understanding of the virus in each of our 102 counties.”

The governor on Monday said he was “very, very excited” about a new rapid COVID-19 test developed by Lake Bluff-based Abbott Labs that received emergency approval last week from the Food and Drug Administration. The test can deliver results in as little as five minutes, the company said.

“If we can produce enough of those, we can make a real difference,” Pritzker said. “The problem is that Abbott can produce only about 50,000 of these a day” — and they are being distributed nationwide.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker Twitter

But Pritzker said there’s also “concern about supplies” needed to administer and process coronavirus tests, like swabs and reagents. Labs that inevitably run out of those vital supplies “will slow down or stop the entire process,” he noted.

Testing sites expanded

Thirty hospital and clinical labs were up and running by Sunday, along with three state labs, three federally supported roadside testing sites and two state-run drive-thru locations.

Officials opened the state’s second drive-thru testing site over the weekend at the McLean County Fairgrounds in Bloomington. Members of the Illinois National Guard are manning that site, as well as the first drive-thru lab at an old emissions testing facility on the Northwest Side.

Both sites are now testing health care workers, first responders and people over the age of 65, all of whom must exhibit respiratory symptoms, according to the IDPH. When the Harwood Heights Community Test Site opened last week in Chicago, only medical personnel and front line responders were being tested.

Meanwhile, the University of Illinois at Chicago has opened a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility for in-network patients who have received a doctor’s order. And Midwest Express Clinic, a chain of urgent care centers, is offering limited testing at eight locations in Illinois and northwest Indiana to health care workers, first responders and high-risk patients.

While tests are becoming more widely available, not everyone can get one yet. On Monday, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state is currently prioritizing testing for hospitalized patients, seniors, high-risk patients with pre-existing conditions and those living in congregate facilities, like nursing homes and prisons.

“Obviously everybody has not gotten tested and because of the shortage ... we were trying to have a priority scheme in terms of using our limited resources,” said Ezike.

Pritzker has for weeks criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to complaining Sunday that private labs contracted by the federal government have been taking between four and 10 days to process and return tests, Pritzker said the number of daily tests conducted at the state-run drive-thru sites has been limited by federal red tape.

“Due to the federal government requiring federal personnel representation at our two state drive-thrus, we remain tied to a 250 test cap at each of these locations,” Pritzker told reporters Sunday.

“We’ve been hitting 250 tests by just the early afternoon and having to turn people away.”

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