Pritzker Outlines Efforts to Expand COVID-19 Testing Capacity, Sites

New statewide totals: 25,733 cases, 1,072 deaths

Testing is a key element of Illinois’ fight against COVID-19, and on Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker provided an update on the state’s efforts to expand its testing capacity.

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Last week, Pritzker outlined the state’s plan to increase the number of tests conducted daily to 10,000 and revealed the shortcomings of five testing machines from Thermo Fisher that promised to run 200 tests per hour. Those machines would not be used until they could produce accurate results, Pritzker said at the time.

Those machines “are now up and running with reliable results,” Pritzker said Thursday afternoon. “So reliable that as we ramp up over the next week, we’re estimating additional capacity of thousands more tests per day at our state labs alone.”

Machines and labs are only one part of the equation, Pritzker said. “We’ve also needed to find adequate supplies necessary to take specimens. Over the past month, obtaining the raw materials for specimens, notably viral transport medium, called VTM, and swabs has been difficult,” he said.

But those problems have more or less been solved.

“Our university partners of Illinois Tech, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and the University of Illinois at Chicago, and University Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as outside vendors, have committed collectively to providing us with enough VTM and swabs that we can not only stock our own state labs, but support additional labs throughout the state,” Pritzker said. “This means even more specimens being taken for testing.”

Labs in need of those materials can request them through their local emergency management agency, he added.  

“With the increased capacity of machines and labs, and new supply of raw materials, we can now take more specimens to test,” Pritzker said. “It’s a great place to be at, having the ability to expand testing sites now that we can run more tests.”

Pritzker announced the state will be expanding testing through its network of federally qualified health centers, including TCA Health in Roseland and Chatham, the Erie Family Health Centers in the Evanston-Skokie region, and Howard Brown locations in Englewood, Hyde Park, Austin and Little Village, among others. According to the governor’s office, dozens more are preparing to bring their operations online. A list of these sites and their contact information, along with information on testing eligibility can be found online.

“While each independent provider can and will offer tests with their own unique criteria, the state of Illinois has expanded those eligible to get a test to include who has COVID-19-like symptoms even if they are not given a doctor’s order,” Pritzker said. “This will apply to state-run drive-thru testing centers and will be offered as guidance to medical providers across Illinois.”

There are currently three state-run drive-thru sites: one each in Evanston, Pekin and Markham, which opened two days ago. These sites are able to conducts 1,800 tests per day, according to the governor.

Pritzker said these drive-thru sites have produced “terrific” results and will be announcing two additional sites in the coming days.

“This progress on testing isn’t all the progress that we need to begin on our path back to normal, but it truly is an important step to get there,” he said.

University of Chicago Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Weber announced Thursday that the medical center, in partnership with Ingalls Memorial Hospital, is committed to performing 1,000 tests each day on the South Side and communities in the south suburbs. “We hope this makes us much, much closer to the governor’s commitment of 10,000 tests a day,” Weber said.

When asked about whether he’d extend his stay-at-home order, Pritzker said to expect an answer in the coming days. “April 30 is the day we set. We look at it every day,” he said. Part of that is dependent on testing and the state is not yet where Pritzker would like it to be. He also said the state needs to increase its ability to trace and track cases.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

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.

Additional resources:

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

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