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COVID-19 Testing Slowly Increasing In McLean County

Drive-through virus testing
Lynne Sladky
Carline Denis screens people waiting in their vehicles to be approved for testing for COVID-19 at the Doris Ison Health Center, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Miami. The testing is being provided by Community Health of South Florida, Inc.

UPDATED 2:55 p.m. | The number of COVID-19 tests being done in McLean County is ticking up slowly, officials said Wednesday, as local health care providers lean more on commercial labs to expand who can get swabbed.

The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) has approved 12 tests so far though state labs, with another 15 or so ran through commercial labs, said Melissa Graven, communicable disease supervisor at MCHD. There have been confirmed cases yet in McLean County, but Graven said it’s a matter of when—not if.

“We’re operating on the assumption that it’s probably here and we haven’t found it yet,” Graven said.

Should people be concerned about the low number of tests done locally?

“I don’t necessarily know concerned. It’s definitely something we’re wondering. We wish we could have the ability to test every single person who needed or wanted a test. The reason that number is so low is because up until a week ago, the state labs were the only labs able to do that testing. Their ability to do that testing was provided by the CDC, so they were given a limited amount of resources. So the state said, ‘Who’s at the risk of contracting COVID, and who’s at the highest risk for having poor outcomes?’”

Of the 15 tests run through commercial labs: “We’re getting more and more coming in every hour.”

Central Illinois hospitals and other providers can now send specimens through commercial labs, not just those operated by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The commercial labs starting to do this work include Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, Mayo Clinic, Arup, and others, Graven said.

“Now that commercial labs are online, there’s a lot more availability of testing, So that if they don’t meet IDPH criteria, we’ll follow up and say, if the clinician has a strong suspicion, go ahead and test through the commercial lab,” Graven said.

OSF HealthCare

At OSF HealthCare, which operates St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, the nationwide shortage of COVID-19 testing kits and equipment makes it difficult to get a handle on how many cases there really are, said OSF chief operating officer Michael Cruz.

“The entire (OSF) HealthCare system, 14 hospitals, has 300 or 400. So if we're not careful about how we do that test, we will burn through that. We can do that in one day,” Cruz told WCBU in Peoria.

Cruz said the COVID-19 community surveillance problem is compounded by the two to three days it takes for test results to come back from a state lab in Springfield. He said OSF is looking into private vendors offering molecular testing that returns results in minutes, or faster sendoff testing.

"We don't own that test. We don't have that equipment. So we couldn't turn that around for our 14 hospitals even if we wanted to today. So we're looking into private and other vendors who have that capability,” Cruz said.

OSF also started a statewide call center over the weekend. Two auditoriums filled with registered nurses are taking coronavirus assessments via phone.

The McLean County Health Department's data-gathering ability is currently limited when it comes to commercial-lab testing. While it can easily count the number of tests it approves for the state lab, it does not have easy access to the number of negative tests coming back from commercial labs. Confirmed cases would of course be reported.

“We’re currently trying to work with the hospitals and anybody doing testing to ensure we get those negative results as well, so we can help inform decisions for those patients that are getting tested,” Graven said.

Advocate Aurora Health

Meanwhile, efforts are underway at Advocate Aurora Health to expand testing and prepare for increases in patient volume across its system. It operates Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal.

ACL Laboratories, which is part of Advocate Aurora Health, is in the process of finishing testing validation and training for COVID-19 testing, Advocate said Wednesday. Once operational, ACL Laboratories will be able to perform at least 400 tests daily with results back in fewer than 24 hours.

People should not go to testing sites unless they have been explicitly instructed to do so by an Advocate Aurora Health physician. If you feel that you might need testing, call (866) 443-2584.

Drive-Through Testing?

The best way to test someone to minimize exposure is a swab through the nose to the back of the throat. It’s twirled around, put in a little tube, and sent to the lab.

Around the country, drive-through testing sites are popping up to screen patients for COVID-19. The goal is to improve surveillance and reduce pressure on emergency rooms.

In Illinois, the Quad Cities saw its first mobile testing site open Wednesday, operated by Genesis Health System. Genesis says a second testing site is being planned for Moline.

Could McLean County soon see drive-through testing?

“I know that health care providers and the emergency rooms are actively working on plans of what that would look like to start testing people,” Graven said Wednesday.


Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.