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Big demand for COVID testing in McLean County during holiday week, with limited options

A health worker performs a coronavirus test at a Test Iowa site in Waukee, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
Public health officials recommend anyone who may have recently been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 be tested about 5-7 days after that exposure, even if they have no symptoms.


McLean County residents looking to get tested for COVID-19 on Monday encountered long lines at Bloomington’s community-based testing site, even as officials promised more resources.

The Interstate Center (McLean County Fairgrounds) testing site in west Bloomington reopened Monday after two days of veing closed. This week the site’s schedule expands to six days open per week, up from four. It will be open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though it will be closed Jan. 1 for the holiday. (This expanded schedule begins this week, according to the McLean County Emergency Management Agency; the Pritzker administration announced that other community-based testing sites will expand their schedules starting Jan. 3.)

Other testing options in Bloomington-Normal will be limited during the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The SHIELD Illinois testing locations at Heartland Community College and Illinois State University are closed until Jan. 3. At-home rapid test kits have not been easy to find on store shelves in Bloomington-Normal.

And on Monday, OSF HealthCare told people without symptoms to stop coming into its facilities to be tested. It pointed to the rise of COVID infections primarily among the unvaccinated.

“Right now all across the nation, we’re seeing a huge surge in COVID-19 cases,” said OSF chief operating officer Dr. Michael Cruz. “We are equipped to handle COVID testing for patients who are sick, injured or who are preparing for a procedure but our patient volume is currently so great that we need the public’s cooperation to ensure proper usage of our health care resources.”

He stressed that emergency departments at hospitals should be reserved for true medical emergencies and not used as a means to achieve a COVID-19 test result by asymptomatic people.

Public health officials recommend anyone who may have recently been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 be tested about 5-7 days after that exposure, even if they have no symptoms.

Illinois’ 7-day average test positivity rate has doubled in just the last week and a half, to 11.7%. And the state set yet another record for new COVID cases on Christmas Eve, with more than 21,000 new positive tests reported.

You can find a full list of community testing options on the county health department website.

More hospitalizations

Hospitals across the state admitted 500 new COVID patients between Sunday and Monday. The number of COVID patients hospitalized saw a net increase of 330 as of midnight, including patients who were discharged or died from COVID.

Gov. JB Pritzker warned Monday the surge is jeopardizing health care for Illinoisans who need to go to the hospital for non-COVID reasons, including heart attacks or car crashes.

“If we are forced to move to a crisis standard of care in our hospitals, it will be because massive numbers of unvaccinated people chose to let others go without quality care, and even more people will die,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said he’s requested Army staffing help from the Biden administration.

Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal has seen a “very concerning surge” in COVID hospitalizations, said president Colleen Kannaday during Monday’s media briefing with the Pritzker administration.

“The COVID pandemic has me thinking a lot about the word ‘community,’” Kannaday said. “I believe a sense of community is what is needed now to end the surge we’re seeing with this COVID pandemic.”

Carle BroMenn currently has 22 COVID patients, including five in the ICU.

Of those hospitalized in the Carle system, 81% are unvaccinated, and 87% of COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. OSF HealthCare, which has a hospital in Bloomington, has reported similar numbers.

“I worry right now that our pleas to our communities, and asking everyone to get vaccinated, has become white noise and are actually some to bristle at the words, and that’s certainly not what’s intended,” said Kannaday, urging those who consider themselves healthy enough not to get vaccinated to reconsider. “We have the opportunity right now to unite together, to protect our neighbors and our communities, and I think together we can end this pandemic.”

Vaccines work at limiting spread and severity of COVID-19, Carle says.

“Week after week, the numbers back it up,” the Urbana-based health system says.

The McLean County Health Department remained closed Monday for the holiday. A new batch of data showing local cases, hospitalizations and deaths is expected to be released Tuesday.

In the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Region 2 (which includes Bloomington-Normal and Peoria), 91% of ICU beds were in use as Monday. Just 20 ICU beds are available out of 231.

There are multiple places to get vaccinated for free in McLean County this week. That includes two clinics at Grossinger Motors Arena in downtown Bloomington.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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