Lines at COVID-19 testing sites across the suburbs are likely to get longer heading into the Thanksgiving holiday amid increasing community spread, surging hospitalizations and rising death counts statewide, health officials warn.
Already, large state-run drive-up testing sites at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights and on Farnsworth Avenue across from the Chicago Premium Outlets mall in Aurora are averaging more than 1,000 visitors daily, as people camp out starting in the early morning and wait hours for testing at these and other community sites.
And, demand is expected to grow amid heightened COVID-19 restrictions announced Tuesday -- the state will move into Tier 3 mitigations starting Friday to curb the virus's spread and avoid a blanket stay-at-home order.
"Our immediate care centers are overwhelmed with volume," said Dr. Jon Olsen, chairman of the emergency department at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. "It's all across the Chicagoland area."
Advocate Health is seeing higher testing volumes across its 10 hospital sites and dozens of immediate care centers.
Most people getting tested now are exhibiting symptoms or have a known or suspected exposure. But that could change if asymptomatic people seek testing so they can feel more comfortable about gathering with family members for Thanksgiving, Olsen said.
"We would discourage that," he said. "It's not a great use of our testing resources. We want to reserve it for patients with symptoms that are sicker."
Olsen warns getting tested while being asymptomatic might give some people a false sense of security that it's OK to be around others -- because a negative test isn't a guarantee someone doesn't have the virus, as some rapid results tests aren't as sensitive and can result in false negatives 15% of the time.
"The only safe way to be around friends or family is if everyone self-quarantines for 14 days before getting together, which is not realistic for most people," Olsen said. "I would advocate (for) virtual celebrations and only celebrating with your household family members. You are putting yourself at significant risk if you are around other family members and friends even if they are not symptomatic.
"Especially younger people tend to have few, if any, symptoms, but they are still contagious and spreading it to older family members or those with underlying health conditions."
County and state health departments also are bracing for an increase in demand at drive-up testing sites and increasing mobile testing options.
The DuPage County Health Department, which offers 600 tests daily at a drive-up testing site at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, is working with the state to expand mobile testing in partnership with local municipalities.
"We are finalizing plans for additional community-based testing throughout the county and will continually update our website for residents to be aware of local options," said Stephanie Calvillo, the department spokeswoman. "In recognition of the fact that this pandemic requires not only public but also private investment of testing resources, many of our retail pharmacies and local health care providers are making testing available as well."
The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting sometimes hourslong wait times at its suburban testing sites. An average of 1,105 people are tested daily at its Aurora site and 1,530 people are tested daily at the Arlington Heights site. So far, neither venue has run out of tests over the past several days, IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.
"Approximately 3,300 tests are allocated each day for both of these sites," Arnold said. "Additional staff have been added to both the Arlington Heights and Aurora sites to reduce wait times."
State sites represent a small percentage of the tests being conducted at various clinics, hospitals, local health departments and other locations on any given day, officials said. For information about IDPH and other testing sites, visit dph.illinois.gov/testing.
"About 100,000 tests get administered every day and we have been encouraging people to use that," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday during his daily COVID-19 news briefing. "We also have new kinds of testing that are coming online."
State health officials are working on rolling out a saliva test with the help of the University of Illinois and other universities and labs statewide.