UPDATED 9 a.m. | The drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Bloomington will close Thursday and move to Peoria, which already has excess testing capacity at four community-based sites, WGLT has learned.
It's unclear why the Bloomington testing site is closing. While initially underutilized, demand at the site has increased in recent weeks.
The McLean County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), which broke the news of the closure, said it only learned about it Monday afternoon.
"This isn't a McLean County decision," EMA said on Facebook. "We weren't part of the decision process."
Officials previously said federal funding for the state-run site at the Interstate Center would last through the end of May. It's unclear what changed.
"(The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and the federal government have always been committed to providing support for this testing site. However, we have been informed that the state and (Illinois Department of Public Health) requested that this site be moved to a new location," said John Rauber, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, who represents parts of Bloomington-Normal. "The federal government will continue to provide support to the new site and it will continue to serve central Illinois, administering tests to those in need."
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told WGLT on Tuesday that the site was moving to Peoria at the state's request.
"The federal government works closely with the states to ensure each state has the flexibility to meet the needs of their specific communities," the HHS spokesperson said.
The Bloomington site has been underutilized, routinely testing less than half its daily maximum capacity. However, the site saw a 25% increase in testing after criteria were loosened April 29 to allow more asymptomatic people to use the site, including grocery and restaurant workers. It tested 813 people last week—a record high.
"This information is new to us, but here's what we know: People will still be able to be tested through their doctor's office, and there will be a site in Peoria that our residents will be able to access," McLean County EMA said on Facebook.
Other Options Are Limited
In response to questions Monday, state officials confirmed the closure but did not address WGLT's questions about why it was closing. They pointed out that two other testing options are available in the Bloomington-Normal area. Those are Chestnut Health Systems on West Chestnut Street in Bloomington, and OSF PromptCare on Fort Jesse Road in Normal. But Chestnut's testing is only available to existing patients, according to the state's website. OSF PromptCare requires patients to be pre-screened, the state's website says. Both require an appointment. The drive-up site did not have such limitations.
"Additionally, OSF HealthCare has established several programs to help members of the community navigate COVID-19, including a Pandemic Health Worker program that acts as a direct connection between you and healthcare providers," state officials said Monday.
The closure means more traffic from Bloomington-Normal may come through the Peoria area's four community-based testing sites.
The four sites allow all adults to receive a nasal swab test, regardless of symptoms. Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said Monday that Heartland Health Services feels it's able to handle additional traffic to its Peoria and Pekin test sites.
"They are within their capacity to do that. I mean today, they did close to 200. And that's because they've been able to get those resources from the state and other labs. And so, with that I think with that push over here that is a capacity that we can handle here locally," she said.
When asked for comment, the McLean County Health Department referred WGLT to the state.
The Bloomington site has tested more than 4,500 people since opening in late March. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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