More than 75,000 people in Illinois have so far been tested for COVID-19, according to state health officials, and more than 6,000 tests are being conducted each day. While that sounds like progress, it’s not reflective of a goal Gov. J.B. Pritzker was hoping to reach by Wednesday.
Had the state met that goal, 10,000 tests would be conducted each day by now.
“Scientists and experts say that we need to understand more fully the virus’s presence in our communities across Illinois,” Pritzker said Wednesday afternoon in explaining his plan to reach 10,000 tests.
Deaths across the state increased by 82 on Wednesday — the largest single-day jump since just a day earlier. Statewide, there have been 462 virus-related deaths and 15,078 cases. Among those who have tested positive is a member of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s executive protection detail. While Preckwinkle doesn’t have any signs or symptoms of the virus, Preckwinkle said she will self-isolate for the rest of the week out of “an abundance of caution.”
Pritzker said the state had hoped to increase its testing capacity through a partnership with Thermo Fisher, a supplier of molecular testing equipment. Five machines from Thermo Fisher were distributed among the three state laboratories and each “promised to run 200 tests per hour,” Pritzker said.
But the results have not been great.
“Over the past 10 days, working alongside experts from Thermo Fisher, we’re not getting the level of output we want to see from these machines, and more importantly the tests are not producing valid results in a way that meets our exacting standards,” Pritzker said. “I am as impatient as the rest of you are wanting to increase testing, but I will not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed. These tests and the results they will provide are too important and we have to get this right.”
The Thermo Fisher machines will not be used until these challenges are addressed, he added. The state could increase testing capacity via private labs through the federal government, “but the problem is those labs take 7-10 days to produce a result. People could end up on a ventilator before they ever get their testing result.” State labs and local hospitals can get results in two days, according to Pritzker.
Rather than relying solely on federally sanctioned labs, “we’re charting our own path forward,” Pritzker said. “I’m putting my faith in scientists and technicians and academics and innovators here in Illinois to expand our tests results. … Our researchers are working in an expedited fashion to get this additional new testing up and running as soon as possible and to distribute (them) to other institutions beyond our state labs that have the same equipment to continue increasing capacity statewide.”
In addition, state universities and labs will be creating raw materials, rather than rely on the global supply chain, which Pritzker said was in “disarray.” Institutions will also be developing and distributing other necessary testing materials locally, he added.
Pritzker also addressed rapid testing. He said he talked to the CEO of Abbott Labs the night it announced its 5-minute portable COVID-19 test, “and they expressed their genuine interest in taking care of their home state.”
“They dedicated the supplies to support more than 88,000 tests a month or around 3,000 tests a day here in Illinois,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is our understanding that the federal government redirected most of these early tests to private systems without our state input about where the tests would have the most impact.”
But Pritzker says he expects the rapid tests will increase Illinois’ testing capacity soon. The state also received 15 Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 tests from the federal government, Pritzker said, which is sending that amount to every state in the U.S.
“This could be a huge help, but there’s a catch. The government only included 120 total tests, that’s eight tests per machine for all of Illinois,” Pritzker said. “But I assure you, we will leave no stone unturned to get the tests that we need to run these tests at full board.”
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link