Advocate hospitals pausing drive-thru
National shortage of test kits forces program stoppage
Days after it began to ramp up drive-thru testing for patients who may be infected with the novel coronavirus, the Advocate Aurora Health hospital system announced Friday that it has suspended that program because of a national shortage of test kits and processing materials.
Advocate said in a news release that state health officials and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association were seeking “to conserve tests for those in critical need.”
“It’s an ongoing issue for all our hospitals in Illinois and across the country,” said Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association. “There are very limited supplies of testing kits, nasal swabs and reagents — chemicals used to test the specimens — in large part due to the very small rollout of test kits by the federal government.”
The scarcity of testing materials is being exacerbated by the rapid increase in the numbers of people infected with the novel coronavirus, including highrisk groups such as the elderly, nursing home residents and people with existing medical conditions, Chun said.
“Every hospital in this state is working to set up testing processes, but they’re hamstrung by the lack of available testing kits and testing supplies,” he said, adding that it’s impossible to quantify the shortage or give an accurate number of available tests statewide.
Chun’s blunt assessment stands in stark contrast to the public statements of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly pledged a dramatic increase in test kits for the new virus.
“It’s going very well,” Trump said at a news conference Friday, when asked about labs across the country reporting a lack of testing supplies. “We inherited an obsolete deal and we’ve made a good thing of it.”
“More and more tests are being performed every day,” Vice President Mike Pence added.
The new coronavirus has sickened around 15,000 people nationwide and caused five deaths in Illinois.
Allison Lanthrum, of west suburban St. Charles, expressed frustration after several attempts to get coronavirus testing for her 2-year-old son, who exhibited symptoms of the disease including sore throat, intense cough and a fever that just broke after six days. Yet she’s been stymied each time because of the state’s stringent testing guidelines.
“It’s pretty terrifying,” she said. “I am so powerless, because at this point there is nothing we can do. We can’t get a test.”
Each health care provider has asked if her son has recently traveled to a higher-risk country or had contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient, she said.
“They said specifically, has he been in contact with a confirmed case, and I laughed because I don’t know anyone who has been tested,” she said. “But I know a lot of people who need and want to get tested. How can we attempt to control this virus if we don’t know where it is? If we’re not testing everyone who has the symptoms, at least.”
Lanthrum also expressed concern about the lack of testing on a national scale.
“It would affect the data, the essential data being collected in order to begin to control the virus,” she said. “And without that, we have nothing. We shouldn’t have to prioritize. We should have had enough tests two months ago.”
John Collins, 57, of Crystal Lake said he also was unsuccessful in getting tested even though he suffered typical symptoms and his medical provider ruled out other possible ailments.
“I realize there’s a testing shortage,” he said. “That’s a problem. But how do you manage this if you don’t know the numbers that are sick? We’re taking all the necessary steps across the country to flatten the curve. But if you don’t know where it’s at, how do you direct resources?”
As the number of coronavirus cases rises in Illinois each day, state health officials say they’re helping hospitals and labs develop their own testing ability. The state is also working with federal officials to set up drive-thru testing sites “in some of the hardest-hit areas of the state,” Dr. Ngozi
Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at a news conference Friday.
She said one of those sites will be operated by the state, with federal support, while several others are government partnerships with private retailers Walgreens and Walmart.
A coronavirus drive-up testing site will be opening soon in the parking lot of a Walmart in west suburban Northlake, according to city officials there. The company said the big-box retailer is looking at several other Chicago-area pilot sites but didn’t give specific locations or start dates.
Some local hospital officials said Friday that they have no immediate plans to reduce COVID-19 testing. A spokesman for EdwardElmhurst Health said the medical provider intends to continue testing without changes.
And while Rush University Medical Center isn’t decreasing its testing now, acting chief quality officer Dr. Brian Stein said “testing kits, specifically test swabs, are in short supply and may also drive us to change testing criteria.”
Last week, patients at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in northwest suburban Park Ridge were being screened at a new driveup coronavirus testing site, if they had physician approval and an appointment.
But Friday’s news release from Advocate said such services have been put on pause. “As a health care provider and a member of our communities, we have a
“Every hospital in this state is working to set up testing processes, but they’re hamstrung by the lack of available testing kits and testing supplies.” — Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association
responsibility to prioritize testing for the most vulnerable and save lives by taking decisive action to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” the release said.
The hospital system said patients with critical coronavirus symptoms will be evaluated and treated, but those experiencing non-severe coronavirus symptoms will be told to quarantine themselves at home.
“People who show up to the emergency room but aren’t very sick won’t be tested,” said an Advocate spokeswoman. “People who are severely ill will get testing.”
Physician’s assistant Peter Schorr performs a nasal swab Friday on a patient at the Edward-Elmhurst Health drive-thru testing center in Warrenville.
Allison Lanthrum and her son, Ellis, 2, self-quarantine at home Friday in St. Charles. Lanthrum believes her son might have the new coronavirus but can’t get him tested.