AUSTIN — West Side residents with coronavirus symptoms or who are medically vulnerable to the virus can soon get tested in their own neighborhoods.
Several hundred tests per day will be available at Lawndale Christian Health Center, 3860 W. Ogden Ave., and PCC Community Wellness Center, at 14 W. Lake St. in Austin. Testing is underway at Lawndale Christian and is slated to start at PCC Community Wellness Center soon.
Supplies are limited, so only patients showing symptoms or who are medically vulnerable will be able to get tested. Testing will be prioritized for those showing symptoms who also have underlying conditions like asthma, hypertension, cancer and diabetes.
West Siders who want to be tested can reach out to PCC Community Wellness Center at 773-295-3347 or Lawndale Christian Health Center at 872-588-300.
The health centers are not taking walk-ins for testing. Individuals who have coronavirus symptoms, including a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, should call their doctor or one of the testing sites to speak to a clinician to be screened by phone to determine whether they should be tested.
If symptoms are severe, the health centers recommend calling 911 for emergency services or contacting a doctor immediately.
On the South Side, coronavirus testing is also being done by appointment at Alivio Medical Center, 2355 S. Western Ave. in Pilsen, the University of Illinois Health Clinic, 1714 S. Ashland Ave. in Pilsen, and at a drive-thru site at Advocate Christ Hospital Medical Center, 4440 W 95th St. in suburban Oak Lawn. University of Chicago Medical Center in Hyde Park is testing patients referred by partners, too.
Previously, there were no coronavirus testing sites on the West Side, forcing residents to travel downtown or to other parts of the city to determine if they had the virus. But a unified call from residents and local elected officials changed that.
West Side State Rep. La Shawn Ford joined other elected officials and administrators at Loretto Hospital last week to demand Black communities be prioritized as the state distributes funding, testing and personal protective equipment to combat the outbreak. Under a new partnership between Gov. JB Pritzker and Lurie Children’s Hospital, Lurie will process the tests.
“The collaboration of the community and the elected officials making a demand really made a difference. It’s a call for action and it worked,” Ford said.
A recent analysis by WBEZ found that Black Chicagoans make up 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths despite representing under 30 percent of the city’s population.
This is in part because of barriers to health care and social conditions like income and food scarcity that make Black people on the West Side more likely to have preventable chronic diseases. Even before coronavirus, there was a 16-year “death gap” in life expectancy between residents living on the West Side when compared with people who live in Streeterville downtown, according to West Side United.
The lack of testing sites on the West Side was yet another barrier to health faced by Black folks, said Debra Wesley, president of Sinai Community Institute. Without local testing options, residents who are exposed, vulnerable or showing symptoms had to leave their neighborhoods to get tested. And since many out west don’t have cars they have to take public transit, putting themselves and others at risk for further exposure.
Ford commends the effort to expand testing but notes that with a population of 100,000 in Austin alone, several hundred tests a day for only symptomatic residents is still not enough.
“People that feel they need to get tested need to be tested. That’s my push. We don’t want to go by CDC guidelines where you have to take a prescreening to say whether or not you’re eligible for a test Because we now know that the more tests, the greater chance we have to end the spread,” Ford said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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