Mayor Lightfoot Announces Opening Of 6 New COVID-19 Testing Sites

WBBM Newsradio Staff
May 11, 2020 - 2:40 pm

    CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Mayor Lightfoot began her press briefing Monday thanking Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. for connecting the city of Chicago to Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, led by actor Sean Penn.

    Lightfoot said Rev. Jackson has been working with Sean Penn for years to bring emergency medical supplies to areas around the world who need it the most, "whether it be the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, neighborhoods in Houston, or the informal settlements in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

    According to Lightfoot, most recently CORE has been doing work in Los Angeles and other parts on California in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "And they offered to come here, to Chicago," Lightfoot said. "After a number of discussions with our team from public health, we are pleased to announce this partnership here in Chicago."

    Last week, Mayor Lightfoot announced the “Protecting Chicago” framework that the city will use to guide Chicago’s reopening process amid COVID-19. Lightfoot said in order to move to the next phase, it comes down to four key questions: 1. Is the rate of disease spread across the city and surrounding counties decreasing? 2. Does the city have the testing and contact-tracing capacity to track the disease and limit spread? 3. Are there enough support systems in place for vulnerable residents? 4. Can the healthcare system handle a potential future surge (including beds, ventilators and PPE)?

    "I'm pleased to announce that starting this week, Chicago will be launching six new testing sites across our city, enabling us to begin our process of expanding testing from our current level of approximately 3,000 tests per day to 10,000 per day by the end of the month. One of these new sites will be specifically for first responders and healthcare workers. While the other five will be located within communities disproportionately impacted by this disease. This new testing network will be operated by the City of Chicago with assistance from CORE, as well as from Curative, an organization specializing in large-scale COVID-19 testing," Lightfoot said.

    Lightfoot said the sites were selected by the city through a collaborative process between Chicago's emergency operations center, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Racial Equity Rapid Response team.

    "The city will be directly responsible for providing supports for testing sites, including staffing for site management, safety, security, traffic control, and public health supports. CORE will be working along side the city to assist in creating the testing sites, identifying additional resources as needed, providing support for staffing and site management, and integration of testing software. In doing so, CORE will draw upon the procedures developed in working in other cities and will leverage its existing relationship with our other testing partner Curative, who will be responsible in providing all testing materials, along with the actual lab testing and data reporting," Lightfoot said.

    The populations eligible for testing at these sites will be broken down into two groups, Lightfoot said, symptomatic and asymptomatic. Asymptomatic individuals include first responders and healthcare workers "who have been fighting on the front lines of this crisis and have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case," Lightfoot said. Other eligible asymptomatic individuals include those identified during contact tracing or a cluster investigation. Symptomatic individuals are what you would expect, Lightfoot said, including those experiencing fever, coughing, shortness of breath, chills, and other signs associated with COVID-19. 

    "As I mentioned earlier, we are specifically focusing out community-based sites in neighborhoods experiencing disproportionately high levels of cases, and we are thrilled to announce that our first sites will launch later this week," Lightfoot said.

    New testing sites will be located at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village and Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont Cragin, "to support our Latinx community."

    The city will also be opening a site dedicated to first responders and healthcare workers at Guaranteed Rate Field. 

    Other sites will open later this month, at locations including Kennedy King College in Englewood, Senka Park in Gage Park, and Gately Park in Pullman. 

    "These new sites represent a major step in our city's fight against COVID-19. Not only by identifying cases, but also by dramatically improving our knowledge of this virus and its movement across our communities - all of which will help prevent the spread of this disease, support our efforts to safely reopen our businesses, and recover from this crisis and get our city back on track," Lightfoot said.  

    Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said increasing the city's testing capacity is crucial to tracking COVID-19, to limiting the spread, and to ultimately reopen Chicago. 

    "Testing rates have significantly increased over the recent weeks, but we still need to do more," she said. "Our current positivity rate is at 24.6 percent across the whole city. We've tested more than 100,000 people to date. And you may remember the state has set a goal for reopening a 20 percent positivity rate in total. We actually are getting a little more detailed than that in aiming at a 30 percent positivity in our congregate settings - meaning like our long-term care facilities and homeless shelters - and we are actually hoping to get to a 15 percent positivity in our community setting - so that would be in our clinics and new testing sites. But overall we are at about 25 percent now and we need to get under 20 percent by the end of the month."

    Dr. Arwady said they have also set, within Chicago, a specific goal of being able to test at least five percent of Chicago residents per month.

    "And that brings us to 4,500 tests per day. You heard the Mayor speak to an ultimate 10,000 tests, but that goal of 4,500 a day is where we are hoping to get just over the next few weeks really, ideally by the end of May, beginning of June," she said. "There have been a few days where we already hit 3,500, but overall we are at about a 3,000 rate of individuals, so we really are hoping to go up 50 percent just over the next few weeks. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of places that are already providing diagnostic testing in the city. More are being added every day. All of our hospitals, our emergency departments, private clinics, urgent care clinics, and importantly, more than 55 community health centers, including our federally qualified health centers are now offering testing."

    If you have symptoms of coronavirus, your first call should be to your doctor or health care provider, Dr. Arwady said. However, she said, "still often, we are running out of the deep swabs that are needed to do the nasal tests," among other materials. 

    "Even where we've been building up to probably close to 100 places around the city being able to have the capacity to do testing, the numbers are still not where they need to go," Dr. Arwady said.

    Dr. Arwady said many testing locations are being supported through the state..."but in the meantime, in the immediate term, thinking about the next few weeks, really over the next month or two, as we are all so anxious to be able to get to a point where we can start cautiously reopening, we wanted to help fill the gap."

    She said in partnership with CORE and Curative, the city will be using another diagnostic test - not an antibody test - that allows patients to cough and then self-administer a swab test where they collect saliva from their mouth, put it in a tube, and ship it out.

    "On the plus side, it requires much less PPE, it requires less healthcare workers, it has the same approval that is in place from the FDA, it is done in the same level laboratories, it has less risk to healthcare workers and patient exposure - but most importantly, for the challenges we have been having here, it uses a different supply chain than our typical test kits, so we are not just pulling resources from the existing clinics and existing hospitals that are working so hard to build up that capacity. We are not competing with the same clinical locations, we are not trying to get the same swabs, same media, same lab space - this is meant to be additive, and likely short-term over a few months, as we are working toward reopening," Dr. Arwady said.

    She said most of the new testing sites will allow walk-up testing, for those who do not have a vehicle to drive-up.

    Dr. Arwady encourages all Chicago residents to sign up for the Chi COVID Coach app. For more information on the City of Chicago's COVID-19 response, visit chicago.gov/coronavirus.