Rapid coronavirus testing starting in Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that Illinois was set to receive machines that can process rapid COVID-19 tests in less than 15 minutes.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization to Illinois-based medical device maker Abbott Labs on Friday for a coronavirus test that delivers positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes, the company said.

Abbott Labs’ rapid COVID-19 tests are rolling out in Illinois this week.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that Illinois was set to receive 15 machines that process rapid COVID-19 tests developed by North Chicago-based Abbott Labs.

During his daily press briefing, Pritzker said the first shipment was expected later Thursday, adding that representatives from the medical supply firm assured him that its home state “is a priority for them.”

“We expect to have machines online very shortly,” Pritzker said.

Abbott’s groundbreaking coronavirus test can deliver positive results in just five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes. As he touted the advancement as “a game changer,” Pritzker noted that existing tests take about four to six hours to process results.

Last month, Abbott’s test received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the federal government looked to the private sector after failing to scale up the country’s testing capacity. Abbott quickly sprung into action and started producing tests in the Chicago suburbs.

While Illinois’ capacity for testing has expanded as private companies have gotten involved in the coronavirus response, Pritzker said running tests was still “an enormous problem” during Monday’s press briefing. As of Thursday, 7,695 of the 43,656 tested for COVID-19 in Illinois have been positive, with 157 succumbing to the disease.

Pritzker didn’t provide specifics about where the new machines were being deployed, including whether they would be used to offer immediate results at sites where patients are swabbed or utilized by separate labs where tests are processed in bulk.

“Remember, very important to us is collecting the data. There’s no way … to test everybody out there,” he said. “And so we want to make sure that wherever they go, the data is available to us so we know how many people are contracting coronavirus in what locations.”

Last Friday, Abbott announced that ramped-up production would allow the firm to ship 50,000 tests a day to emergency rooms, doctor’s offices and urgent care clinics.

Urgent care centers plan to use

Physicians Immediate Care, a Rosemont-based company that operates over 40 urgent care centers in Illinois and Indiana, announced Thursday that Abbott’s tests would be implemented at certain clinics this week. Later in the day, company spokesman Todd Vang told the Sun-Times that some tests were already delivered.

“Currently, we are ensuring that the equipment and tests are calibrated correctly, and we will have our first patient swabbed and tested today,” Vang said.

The company’s clinics already use Abbott’s processing machines to test for the flu and strep throat. But because the actual tests remain in short supply, testing will be limited to five locations — two in Chicago, two in the suburbs and another in Rockford.

Physicians Immediate Care will start by testing symptomatic health care workers and first responders who have been exposed to COVID-19 patients. That will eventually expand to high-risk patients, including people over the age of 65 who are exhibiting symptoms.

The company is already offering enhanced curbside screening for potential COVID-19 at the front entrance of its clinics. Based on the severity of symptoms, a patient will either be sent home to self-quarantine or advised to seek additional care. Those with serious symptoms will be sent to the emergency room, while others will be given a time to visit a clinic that offers rapid testing.

“Working with Abbott and our other strategic partners, our team is ready and well-equipped to take the battle against COVID-19 to the next level,” said Physicians Immediate Care CEO Stan Blaylock.

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