On Thursday, the University of Chicago Medicine system announced that it will expand its free COVID-19 testing to 1,000 tests each day for residents of Chicago’s South Side and suburban Harvey. The tests will be available at both the University of Chicago Medical Center in Hyde Park and the Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey.
UChicago Medicine (UCM) started to offer free onsite testing on March 15, but was limited to conducting an average of 200 daily tests for employees and eligible patients who have displayed symptoms of influenza-like illness, according to the UCM website.
According to an email from UCM spokesperson Angela Wells O'Connor, when individuals are tested, "their insurance plans will be billed for the cost of the test, and the health system will waive co-pays so there will be no out-of-pocket costs to patients. People without insurance also will not face any financial obligations for the test."
As the availability of necessary testing supplies increases, this number will be leveled up five times, contributing to Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker’s goal of 10,000 tests a day across the state. Curbside screening will be available to the general public and partnered South Side community hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).
“Approximately half of the tests will be available to symptomatic patients who directly contact the health system to request appointments, while the remainder will be reserved for community partners, healthcare workers, emergency room patients and hospitalized inpatients,” according to the announcement.
Individuals who have influenza-like symptoms and would like testing are asked to either call UCM’s COVID-19 triage hotline or use MyChart if they are current patients for a pre-testing screening. Patients who meet the testing criteria will be asked to schedule a test at curbside clinics and receive the test results in one to two days.
For community partners such as hospitals, nursing facilities, and FQHCs, UCM asks the agencies to perform tests on their patients and send the samples to UCM’s lab for analysis, with the possibility of also providing testing supplies. Organizations unable to perform swab tests should direct their patients to UCM directly.
UCM decided that tests would be free regardless of patients’ insurance policies. Brenda Battle, Vice President of UChicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, saw this expansion as a move to reduce the disproportionate rate of infection in communities of color and gather critical information needed for controlling the epidemic.
The statement sent out by UCM quoted Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who acknowledged UCM’s efforts “to halt the spread of this disease and treat our areas most in need, as well as level the racial inequity that has been tragically prevalent in COVID-19 cases.”
In addition, two UCM outpatient clinics in Hyde Park have been dedicated to care for sick patients who do not require hospitalization, so they may receive medical care without coming in contact with other groups.
Since the start of the testing program, UCM has tested over 7,000 individuals, with approximately 20 percent testing positive for COVID-19. “The system has discharged more than 400 COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began,” according to its website, and currently, it is “caring for a combined 187 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and an additional 75 patients under investigation.”
To date, Illinois has seen 31,508 confirmed cases, with a death toll at 1,349. 148,358 tests have been performed in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Over the last four weeks, Chicago’s intensive care units have been at an average 74 percent capacity, and were able to keep pace, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Clarification on April 23, 2020, 10 p.m. CDT:
This article has been updated to reflect that, when possible, the cost of testing will be covered by insurance plans. There will be no out-of-pocket costs to patients.