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Pritzker unveils steps to boost COVID-19 testing in vulnerable communities

Pritzker unveils steps to boost COVID-19 testing in vulnerable communities

Gov. JB Pritzker announced additional steps Friday aimed at boosting testing capacity in vulnerable communities hit especially hard during the new coronavirus pandemic.

The state is partnering with four federally qualified health centers in Chicago’s west and south sides and three Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation facilities in the Metro East region to begin testing next week in those communities.

The Chicago sites, in partnership with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, will be able to process an additional 400 tests per day. The Metro East sites, in partnership with Anderson Hospital in Madison County, will be able to process an additional 470 tests per day.

Additionally, a state-run, drive-thru testing center will open next week on Chicago’s south side, which Pritzker said will process hundreds of tests per day.

Pritzker said the pandemic has exacerbated existing healthcare disparities.

“Generations of systemic disadvantages in healthcare delivery and in healthcare access in communities of color, and black communities in particular, are now amplified in this crisis,” he said.

As of Friday, African Americans made up nearly 28 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois and nearly 44 percent of deaths. African Americans make up less than 15 percent of the state’s population.

The state also issued guidance Friday reminding healthcare organizations of their “obligations to provide healthcare in an ethical, equitable and nondiscriminatory manner to people of color, people with disabilities and all Illinoisans,” according to a statement from Pritzker.

Additionally, Pritzker announced the state has secured an agreement with the federal government for them to continue operating drive-thru testing sites as they transition to state and local control.

Officials said work continues on refurbishing Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, the former Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin and MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, with a goal of finishing construction by April 24.

Staff training is expected to take an additional two days after construction is completed before the sites can start admitting patients, said Suzet McKinney, CEO of the Illinois Medical District, who is running operations for the five hospitals.

Work on Vibra Hospital in Springfield is expected to be completed by May 9, she said.

Pritzker said he hopes none of the facilities are needed. But they will be there to help support existing hospitals, he said.

He also said the state is preparing up to 2,000 hotel rooms outside of Chicago to house COVID-19 patients who have low-level symptoms and do not need hospital-level care. Rooms will also be available for those who have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient but have not yet shown symptoms.

State officials confirmed 1,465 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 68 additional deaths. There have now been 17,887 cases, including 596 deaths, in 83 counties in Illinois. Fulton and Greene counties reported their first cases. There have been 87,527 total tests.


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