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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Bloomington Testing Site Again Expands Criteria To Include Some Without Symptoms

Handling COVID tests
Illinois National Guard
The Bloomington site has tested nearly 3,000 people since opening last month.

Even if they don't have symptoms, "critical infrastructure" workers like grocery store and restaurant employees can now be tested for the coronavirus at Bloomington's drive-up site, state officials said.

Up until now, the only asymptomatic people who could be tested there were first responders and medical personnel. The change took effect Wednesday. The site, at the Interstate Center (McLean County Fairgrounds), is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

"With Monday's update in federal guidelines for testing, the Bloomington testing site will expand testing to align with the testing guidance at other state sites," a state public health spokesperson said Tuesday.

The Bloomington site has tested nearly 3,000 people since opening last month. But it’s still underutilized. It’s averaging about 98 people per day, and its capacity is 250.

The federally supported site uses federal priorities for testing. Those priorities changed Monday, including the addition of symptoms such as lost sense of taste or smell. But another change allows for asymptomatic people (without symptoms) to be tested if they are “prioritized by health departments or clinicians, for any reason,” such as fitting into “state and local plans.”

Some asymptomatic people do fit into the state’s testing plans. The Illinois Department of Public Health’s own guidance says testing should be available for those “with or without symptoms” who “support critical infrastructure, such as workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, gas stations, public utilities, factories, child care and sanitation.”

Other sites in Illinois are allowing those asymptomatic “critical infrastructure” workers to be tested. That includes the Peoria walk-up and drive-up site that opened April 21.

That site is open even to asymptomatic people if they are health care workers (including nursing homes and long-term care facilities), jail or prison employees, first responders, or support critical infrastructure, Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said Monday.

“They can still come in and get tested regardless of symptoms. We recognize the fact that if you have symptoms, the more your viral load is, the stronger your test results will be, because it will have enough to say yes-no. But understanding those four groups, with or without symptoms, are so key to how we are able to respond and recover, we want to make sure we’re opening up testing regardless of symptoms for them,” Hendrickson said.

Previous Testing Criteria Changes

Widespread testing is key to helping communities quickly identify infected people, and trace and isolate their contacts. This strategy can help prevent more waves of illness.

As of Tuesday, around 2,100 residents of McLean County have been tested, according to the local health department. That’s about 1.2% of the population. Statewide, about 1.9% of people have been tested.

Given the changing priorities, it was unclear earlier Tuesday why certain asymptomatic people still could not be tested at the Bloomington site. Criteria in Bloomington have been loosened before. Early visitors needed to have a fever. They don’t anymore. Minors weren’t allowed at first. Now they are.

WGLT asked Gov. JB Pritzker about the Bloomington site during his Tuesday afternoon news conference in Chicago. His response:

“We have a limited number of tests and capability across the state, and so to the extent that as we’re focused today on people who are symptomatic or are first responders and other essential workers, there is still a limited number of tests available,” he said. “We would hope more people would go to that site, but I do want to remind (WGLT) that in Bloomington, what we’ve seen is there are a lot of other sites available to people. And that is one of the reasons people are not going to that site. They have the ability to go to other health care facilities that have testing available.”

It was not clear which “other sites” Pritzker was referring to. The president of OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington recently told WGLT they were only testing “critical patients who will be hospitalized.” Advocate Aurora Health, which operates a hospital in Normal, said Tuesday that it’s expanding testing this week to include “patients undergoing urgent and emergent surgeries and procedures,” in addition to admitted patients and employees.

A spokesperson for the McLean County Health Department said Monday they were “seeking clarification on the testing criteria for the testing site.” He stressed that the local health department does not provide testing or determine the testing criteria for the Bloomington site.

WCBU’s Tim Shelley contributed to this report.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.