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COVID test orders at Loyola, Illinois State thwarted by Trump administration

Sen. Durbin says schools’ coronavirus testing efforts are hurt by federal health officials’ lack of planning.  

A technician processes nasopharyngeal swab samples positive for COVID-19 at Simple Laboratories in Harwood Heights in April 2020.
Sen. Durbin says the Trump Administration’s policies on COVID-19 testing fall short.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A pair of Illinois universities were unable to receive their orders for COVID-19 test kits or test machines for the start of the fall semester because federal health officials directed a manufacturer to send supplies to other needy locations.

Loyola University Chicago hoped to start the school year with six test analyzing machines to help process potentially thousands of coronavirus tests at two locations but had to settle for four because the manufacturer Quidel was ordered by the Trump administration to redirect orders to other areas deemed most in need.

“It limits our ability to increase the scope of our testing if we don’t have analyzers to give us the results of the tests,” said Joan Holden, director of Loyola’s wellness center.

The university already has the test kits in hand, she said.

Illinois State University in Normal ordered three Quidel testing machines and 5,000 tests that were expected to arrive before the fall term. The university is now looking at other options, including possibly using a saliva test from the University of Illinois, a spokesman said.

“In early summer, we were trying to plan for fall,” said Eric Jome, director of media relations at Illinois State. “We saw an opportunity to order some of these things and get ahead of the situation.”

Both Loyola and Illinois State are mostly conducting classes remotely this semester. Both schools’ representatives said they wanted to offer testing to those faculty, staff and students who do visit the campuses.

While acknowledging that there are many sources in need of testing, Sen. Richard Durbin said in a letter to Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the administration “has unacceptably left these universities with substantial gaps in their testing plans.”

“I am troubled that this entire situation reflects a broader lack of planning and failure of the administration to bolster our supply chain, coordinate allocations of scarce resources and boost domestic production,” Durbin said in his letter.

A spokesperson for HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.