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116 more die in Illinois of COVID-19 as state opens drive-thru testing sites to all

The Illinois Public Health Department says its 11 state-run drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites will be open to everyone, even those without symptoms. Testing is free.

COVID-19 testing area at University of Chicago Hospital in March.
COVID-19 testing area at University of Chicago Hospital in March.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Another 116 people have died in Illinois from COVID-19, but the state saw another decline in the number of daily cases Thursday, as officials announced 11 drive-thru testing sites will be open to everyone, regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms.

That’s an effort to keep on top of the spread of the deadly virus as the state moves ahead in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Phase 3 of reopening. Chicago began that phase Wednesday, with outdoor dining, barbershops and salons and other retail shops opening with strict safety guidelines. The rest of the state did so last Friday.

The Illinois Public Health Department said Thursday its 11 state-run drive thru COVID-19 testing sites would be open to everyone. Previously, the sites were intended for those with symptoms, asymptomatic people who were in contact with COVID-19-infected people and essential workers and first-responders.

“No appointment, doctor referral or insurance is needed at state operated drive-thru sites and testing is available at no cost to the individual,” the department said.

The free drive-thru sites in the Chicago area are in Auburn-Gresham, Harwood Heights, South Holland, Aurora, Rolling Meadows and Waukegan and, elsewhere in Illinois, in Bloomington, Champaign, East St. Louis, Peoria and Rockford.

The sites have the capacity to handle more than 6,000 tests a day.

The state has lost 5,736 people to COVID-19. On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 929 new cases out of 22,841 tests results. That’s a 4.07% positivity rate, much lower than what the state saw through most of May.

The seven-day statewide positivity for cases — one of the the metrics Pritzker and health officials are using to guide reopening — is 6%. That seven-day figure remaining under 20% for 28 days is one of the requirements for the state to move on to the next phase of reopening.

The 116 deaths suggest COVID-19’s deadly phase is not over. It’s the third consecutive day of deaths hovering around the 100 mark and the 25th day in the past seven weeks to see more than 100 Illinoisans succumb to the virus. On a more promising note, the 929 cases was the lowest daily tally for new infections since April 5, when the state saw 899.

There are 2,191 COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals, according to Pritzker’s office. Of those, 853 are in intensive care, and 516 are on ventilators.

The Illinois Public Health Department is recommending that anyone who has been part of a “mass gathering, including rallies and protests” over the past week get tested.

The Chicago Public Health Department wants those same people to quarantine for 14 days and avoid contact with anyone over 60 or those with underlying medical conditions.

Illinois public health chief Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who is leading the state’s response to COVID-19, is recommending people who participated in rallies get tested five to seven days later “or immediately” if symptoms develop.

On Wednesday, state health officials warned it could take up to 14 days to see whether there are any upticks due to mass gatherings.

The state’s Phase 3 reopening is also being carefully watched to see whether it leads to new cases.