CHICAGO — Anyone with coronavirus symptoms can now get tested in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday, an important expansion of the testing officials hope will be a key path out of the crisis.
Previously, officials encouraged people with mild symptoms to stay home and recover in self-isolation to preserve the low supply of tests.
But as the state ramps up testing sites and acquires more supplies, officials are telling people with symptoms they can now be tested even without a doctor’s order.
The state can test nearly 1,800 people a day at its three open drive-thru facilities, with two more opening in coming days. Pritzker said people still need to call ahead to those sites before showing up. An up-to-date list of sites for testing will be available online.
State labs are also ramping up the processing of results. Pritzker has set a goal of getting 10,000 people tested each day, a number he says will give experts a clear picture of the spread of the virus. State numbers show 5,660 people were tested in the past 24 hours.
The expansion of testing comes as Illinois saw its highest one-day surge in deaths with 125. There have now been 1,072 deaths and 25,733 confirmed cases, although Pritzker has warned the actual number of cases is certainly higher due to a lack of testing.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said testing is a key part of stopping the spread of the extremely infectious disease.
“New research suggests that people with coronavirus may be most contagious the day they start symptoms or even a day or two before,” Ezike said. “This is why widespread testing is so important. We need to know who may be infected as soon as we can before they come into contact with many other people, especially the most vulnerable.”
The expansion in testing follows the state’s desperate scramble for testing supplies as well as personal protective equipment for the people administering the tests and the health care workers treating confirmed victims.
Pritzker, who has repeatedly said the federal government failed the states on amassing testing supplies and personal protective equipment, said local efforts have created a new capacity for testing.
Testing machines with improved reliability are now online, allowing more tests to be processed, Pritzker said.
The machines are “so reliable that, as we ramp up over the next week, we’re estimating additional capacity of thousands more tests per day at our state labs alone,” the governor said. “We’ve also needed to find adequate supplies of items necessary to take specimens. Over the last month, obtaining the raw materials for specimens … has been difficult. However, I’m incredibly proud that my team has now managed to virtually eliminate our supply chain problems. … We now can take more specimens to test.”
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.
How To Protect Yourself
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
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