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COVID Testing At Interstate Center To End July 31; Arena Vaccine Clinic Shrinks

Lab technician in face mask takes swab from motorist.
Reditus Labs
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Javier Valle with Reditus Labs takes a swab from a motorist at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing facility at the Interstate Center in Bloomington

McLean County's largest coronavirus testing facility for much of the last year, the Interstate Center in Bloomington, will close its testing site at the end of July, and the area's largest vaccination site also has set a timetable for shutting down.

Private health care providers say they are ready to continue the public health response.

At its peak last November, the Interstate Center was conducting more than 1,000 coronavirus tests per day, according to data provided by the McLean County Emergency Management Agency and compiled by WGLT. At the time, the county's positivity rate was in double digits. New cases were coming in by the hundreds daily.

But now, the site run by Reditus Labs of Pekin is only conducting about 30 tests per day and it has scaled back to four days a week.

The positivity rate in McLean County has dropped below 1%. So, the state of Illinois announced it will shut down the site July 31. Another reason the Interstate Center site is being used less is COVID tests are more readily available now at pharmacies, doctor's offices and health clinics.

Stephanie Paxton
Chestnut Health Systems
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Stephanie Paxton

Stephanie Paxton is director of Chestnut Family Health Systems. Its clinic in west Bloomington is open to the general public, not just Chestnut clients.

Paxton said the clinic will continue to offer the tests as long as they are needed. She said the clinic can handle increased demand after the Interstate Center site closes.

“It’s a definite possibility if that option is no longer available that our testing picks up,” Paxton said.

COVID testing has dropped off nearly 70% in McLean County since mid-April, based on data provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). A main reason for that, health officials say, is more people are vaccinated.

Paul Pedersen, chief medical officer at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, said patients going in for a medical procedure had to be COVID-free and that made up a bulk of the testing at OSF facilities. But Pedersen said those tests have dropped off because people who are fully vaccinated don't have to be tested.

“Every little bit helps. The more we get vaccinated, the less this disease is going to impact anybody,” Pedersen said. Pedersen said St. Joseph Medical Center has collected and processed about 28,700 COVID tests in May and June.

Tim Bassett is vice president of operations at Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. He said Carle also has seen a big drop in testing demand as more people get vaccinated. Bassett said testing supplies are no longer the issue they were early on during the pandemic.

Bassett said Carle now administers rapid coronavirus tests to patients who are admitted and to patients before a medical procedure.

“Thankfully, now that the supply chain has recovered, rapid PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing is more readily available, which makes it easier to test and receive those results, compared to a standard PCR test which can take 24 to 48 hours,” Bassett said.

Bassett said Carle has not had any problems with the reliability of the rapid tests.

Vaccine supplies

Like COVID tests, vaccines are more readily available now, too.

The City of Bloomington has announced Grossinger Motors Arena will reduce capacity at its vaccination clinics that have moved from the arena floor to the concourse and lounge areas — and are down to two per week. The clinic plans to close on Sept. 1.

Health care providers say they are prepared to fill the vaccine void, too.

Paxton said Chestnut Family Health Center has put about 1,500 doses in arms so far, though the rate of vaccinations has declined in recent weeks.

She said the health center has scaled back its vaccination clinics from two days per week to one, but it can add more clinics after the arena clinic closes.

“As long as we are providing the vaccine and the community knows it’s an option, and if those vaccine sites are decreasing out in the community, I anticipate we would see an increase here,” Paxton said.

COVID vaccination rates in McLean County and across the state have dropped sharply after peaking in April.

Bassett at Carle BroMenn said vaccine supplies are no longer a problem, and he wants to see demand back to where it was when vaccines were harder to find.

Paul Pedersen portrait
OSF Healthcare
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Paul Pedersen

“It’s encouraging to see the vaccination rate where it is currently, although we obviously have some room to improve in that regard. A lot of that is a function of expanded access and the supply of the vaccine catching up with the demand that exists,” Bassett said. Carle BroMenn had administered about 11,500 vaccines through Carle medical facilities and clinics with the McLean County Health Department (MCHD), schools and employers, according to Carle spokesperson Lisa Slater.

Pedersen at OSF St. Joseph said you can pretty much get the vaccine of your choice when you want it. Close to 47% of McLean County's population is fully vaccinated, according to IDPH. Pederson said St. Joseph Medical Center has administered about 3,800 COVID vaccines to patients, staff and affiliates.

Pedersen said health professionals now need to convince the vaccine-hesitant why they should get the vaccine. He said doing away with mass clinics like the ones at the arena might prompt more of those conversations to happen.

“If they are really unsure of the safety, they need to talk with their doctor or a doctor and express their concerns and have a sensitive, compassionate discussion,” he said, adding he thinks health care workers can handle any potential COVID surge this summer — including the highly contagious Delta variant that can spread even among people who are vaccinated.

He said that's a sign this pandemic isn't over yet.

Health care providers also said they are preparing for increased demand for COVID vaccines once children under age 12 become eligible. It's unclear when that will be.

WGLT’s local newsroom is expanding, and we’re doing more to tell the stories of Bloomington-Normal. When you support, we report. Contribute during the Spring Fund Drive.

Updated: June 30, 2021 at 3:23 PM CDT
WGLT updated this story to provide additional COVID testing and vaccination data from Carle BroMenn and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center.
Corrected: June 30, 2021 at 9:26 AM CDT
WGLT corrected the story to reflect Carle Health protocols for administering rapid COVID tests.
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