UChicago greatly expands coronavirus testing across South Side

UChicago greatly expands coronavirus testing across South Side

The COVID-19 testing area at University of Chicago Hospital. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

University of Chicago Medicine is now conducting up to 1,000 coronavirus tests at a variety of sites.

University of Chicago Medicine is now conducting up to 1,000 coronavirus tests a day as the health system partners with other facilities to ramp up screening for the deadly virus.

An increase in supplies needed to administer the tests, most notably swabs, has allowed U. of C. to extend testing to anyone with mild symptoms consistent with the disease, falling in line with new guidance outlined by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday. The list of possible symptoms is wide-ranging and includes fever, coughing, sneezing, upper respiratory issues and diarrhea.

“We really expect that that should alone expand the number of folks who would be now eligible for testing,” Dr. Stephen Weber, U. of C.’s chief medical officer, said.

Patients at the U. of C.’s campus won’t have to pay for the testing. Those with health insurance will simply have their provider billed and won’t be subjected to co-pays, while uninsured patients will be tested for free.

However, the cost of testing at other facilities partnering with U. of C. will be left to those providers, said Brenda Battle, U. of C.’s chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer.In addition to testing at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, curbside screening is also starting at those facilities.

Testing is also being conducted by a growing list of partners that includes La Rabida Children’s Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital, St. Bernard Hospital, Palos Heights Hospital, ACCESS Community Health Network, Family Christian Health Center, Montgomery Place, Symphony South Shore and Villa at Windsor Park.

U. of C. has conducted around 200 daily tests have been conducted since March 15, with roughly 20% of patients testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Half of the daily tests conducted now will be reserved for health care workers, community partners and emergency room and hospitalized patients, while the rest will be available to symptomatic symptoms who make an appointment.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot expanded U. of C.’s efforts to expand testing and help “level the racial inequity that has been tragically prevalent in COVID-19 cases.”

“It’s because of efforts like these that we will flatten the curve of this virus, get our city back on track and ultimately re-emerge from this crisis stronger than we have ever been,” Lightfoot added.

The announcement from U. of C. came as Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that the state had also bolstered its capacity to test for the coronavirus and said the state’s criteria for testing have been updated to include all patients showing signs of infection, even if they haven’t received a doctor’s order.

Last week, state officials took over two drive-thru sites that are being manned by members of the Illinois National Guard and were previously supported by the federal government. In addition to those sites on the Northwest Side and in McLean County, another drive-thru site opened this week at a vehicle emissions testing station in Markham.

Those three sites can now run a total of 1,800 tests a day, according to Pritzker, who said two more would soon be added.

Meanwhile, Pritzker said testing is also being expanded to federally qualified health centers across the state.

“We asked which of the over 300 centers would be interested in helping us expand testing. An overwhelming number of them were eager to help,” he added. “We now have sites coming online across Chicago, the collar counties, Peoria and in Southern Illinois, with many more centers expressing interest and working to get their operations up and running.”

At the same time, the Illinois Department of Public Health’s capacity to process those tests has also been bolstered. After complaining last week about the accuracy of five machines Thermo Fisher provided to the state to test specimens, Pritzker credited the Massachusetts-based company on Wednesday for addressing the issue.

“Those five machines that we had had concerns about are now up and running with reliable results. 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.”

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