Walgreens Opens Rapid Testing Site In Springfield, But Testing Availability Still Lags

Apr 20, 2020

A former Walgreens in Springfield is the city’s latest drive-up COVID-19 testing site, and will be able to process 20 tests an hour thanks to rapid testing machines from Abbott Labs.

But Heather Fitzgerald, a site coordinator with Walgreens, said patients must first screen themselves using an online questionnaire to make sure they have symptoms and are in one of four testing priority groups: over 65, have a pre-existing condition, healthcare workers, or first responders.

Unlike other facilities, patients will administer a nasal swab test themselves with guidance from a healthcare provider, and the service is free.

Sites like Walgreens have slowly been able to expand screening to healthcare workers and first responders as well as those with minor symptoms, but anyone who isn’t in those categories remains at the back of the line for a COVID-19 test.

“If we did open it up to the entire population of Springfield, Sangamon County or Central Illinois, we probably would be challenged to provide that number of tests at this point in time,” Fitzgerald said.

Processing machines at the facility are able to give patients an answer within 24 hours, more quickly than state and private labs have been able to so far. But Fitzgerald explained even with rapid testing, there isn’t yet a full picture of how prevalent the infection is here.

“This isn’t an antibody test,” she said. “It doesn’t tell us if someone has been exposed; it only tells us if they’re actively infected now. It’s just one piece of the puzzle that we need to solve.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health prioritizes tests analyzed at its three labs for patients in the hospital, healthcare workers, and those in nursing homes, jails and other congregate settings with a confirmed case.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other public health officials have both continuously complained about the lack of testing supplies and equipment provided by the federal government, and insisted the state is doing what it can to expand testing.

Since clusters of cases have been appearing in nursing homes throughout Illinois, Pritzker announced Monday the state would begin prioritizing screening for staff and residents at facilities where there isn't yet a confirmed case. 

Springfield’s healthcare groups, which are using private labs, said in March they are adding to the IDPH’s list people who show symptoms and are immunosuppressed, elderly or pregnant.

In all, more than 1,300 Sangamon County residents have been tested as of Monday. Testing of residents began in late February.

Congressman Rodney Davis, who toured the facility Monday with other federal and state officials, agreed the ability to test on a wide scale remains hampered.

“Allowing us to come together and open up a facility like this to address the need for more testing, which is obvious, allows us to beat the virus much more quickly,” Davis said.

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