McLean County residents will have another week to prove they want a convenient drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in their backyard.
Amid criticism from local officials, Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration will delay the planned closure and relocation of Bloomington’s testing site at the Interstate Center on the city's west side. The site, which was set to close Thursday and move to Peoria, will now remain open through May 22.
“We want to promote and encourage people to get tested. We reached out, and spoke with some of the leaders in Bloomington and were assured that they would encourage people to use the drive-thru testing in Bloomington, and so we’ve extended (it) through next week,” Pritzker said Wednesday.
State officials previously said Bloomington’s site was closing because it was underutilized. It was at first, but testing numbers have increased since more asymptomatic people (like grocery store workers) were allowed in starting April 29. The site hit its 250-test daily capacity for the first time ever on Tuesday. It did so again Wednesday and had to close early.
On Tuesday, Pritzker claimed “only about 26 people a day” used the site. On Wednesday, the governor admitted he misspoke. The real average is 108 per day.
“There were many, many days of the drive-thru testing in Bloomington in which it was underperforming. I was citing one day. I have to admit, different numbers run through my head. I remember that being one of the days in Bloomington. But the fact is that what we want to happen is people actually use the drive-thru testing. The other drive-thru facilities have done much, much more,” he said.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he encouraged the governor’s office to keep the federally supported, state-run site open. Brady's main concern, he said, is that doctors and standalone surgery centers have come to rely on the site as elective procedures resumed this week. Patients must be tested within 72 hours of their procedure.
“I’m glad we were able to buy more time at the Interstate Center to allow for other local testing arrangements to be made. I appreciate the efforts of the governor’s office working with me on this issue of local importance,” Brady said.
It's unclear what those other local testing arrangements will be.
"This new date will give the community and state time to continue working together to put in place additional local testing capacity," the McLean County Health Department said Wednesday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health website lists two other testing sites in Bloomington-Normal, but they’re much more limited than the drive-thru. Hospitals have expanded testing to include more patients.
“We need a localized reopening plan in place based on local data. That requires continued local testing," Brady said. "I will continue to work with our community leaders, health department officials, and others to make sure that when the Interstate Center testing facility relocates to Peoria, we will have other local testing options available.”
The testing site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. To be tested, you must meet these criteria:
- Be symptomatic
- OR have a risk factor, such as contact with someone with COVID-19 or a compromised immune system or a serious chronic medical condition
You don’t need to show any symptoms to be tested if you work in:
- Health care
- Correctional facilities, such as jails or prisons
- First responders
- Support “critical infrastructure,” such as grocery stores, pharmacies, or restaurants
Meanwhile, the president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP said health officials should have done more outreach in the African-American community to get more people to use the COVID-19 testing site.
Linda Foster said in a video with the McLean County Health Department that many also thought they would have more time to get tested.
“We know they got the word out by way of advertising, but they really didn’t go to the neighborhoods to make sure that everybody knew what the plan was, because initially the idea was they were going to stay until the end of May,” Foster said. “In those cases, people anticipated that happening.”
Foster said it also hurt that the community-based clinic didn't allow walk-ins to get tested. You need to be in a vehicle.
Health Department administrator Jessica McKnight explained the Illinois Department of Public Health runs the testing site and it is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She said her office merely helped with the site selection.
“We’ve been talking with some community partners about what can we do, how can we make testing available,” McKnight said.
Foster said people struggled with the constant changes at the site, partly because it wasn’t clear who was making the decisions regarding the site.
“It’s a good opportunity to have that conversation, but it’s sad that if they are going to be disseminating information like that, what does that say about what the next steps are going to look like?” Foster asked.
The NAACP’s Arlene Hosea agreed with others that testing will be key to reopening the economy so that workers can stay safe.
Foster said she supports reopening the economy as Pritzker and local leaders have proposed, but only if safety remains a top priority and allows for flexibility if COVID-19 cases spike.
“Safety is lives saved,” she said.
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