Inside the process of COVID-19 testing in Evanston


Catherine Buchaniec/Daily Senior Staffer

“Heroes Work Here,” reads a banner outside NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital. The health system conducts about 600 COVID-19 tests every week.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Evanston resident Meredith Rogowski was experiencing shortness of breath and a fever — common symptoms of the novel coronavirus — when she drove to the hospital and asked for a COVID-19 test. The 47-year-old was unsure whether she would even qualify.

But when Rogowski walked into the emergency room, a hospital employee instructed her to wear a mask and took her to the makeshift testing sites in the hospital’s parking garage. The next day, the hospital called to tell her she had tested negative for the virus.

“I feel relieved that I was able to get tested,” Rogowski said. “It’s stressful feeling like you might be sick, especially (when you have) kids.”

On March 12, NorthShore University HealthSystem became the first local hospital network to conduct its own testing for COVID-19. Since then, NorthShore has seen a need for tests dramatically increase, according to Karen Kaul, the chairman of the department of pathology.

About 600 tests are currently carried out every day at Evanston Hospital and other hospitals in the NorthShore network — up 50 percent from when NorthShore first began conducting tests. AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital is also administering COVID-19 tests in the Evanston area.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are currently 12,262 positive cases of COVID-19 in Illinois and 3,661 positive cases in Cook County. In Evanston, there are 124 confirmed cases as of Monday night.

When Rogowski first asked for a test, she had to answer some preliminary questions: the symptoms she was experiencing and if she had traveled recently, been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, or been in a large group in the last few weeks.

NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital has transformed ambulance parking spaces into approximately 50 “testing bays” built out of wood partitions. There, a doctor listened to Rogowski’s breathing and performed an X-Ray on her lungs. The doctor swabbed her nostrils for a sample, which was sent to test at a laboratory for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

“Walking into (a) well organized system…created in preparation for the influx of illnesses, it made me feel (like) our medical professionals are prepared,” Rogowski said.

Rogowski was not asked for a co-payment. Across the country, many insurance companies are waiving costs for COVID-19 testing, but not treatment.

NorthShore hopes to have even more tests going forward to relieve stress on the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to Kaul.

“Right now we are looking at ways to increase the capacity of our testing here at NorthShore so that we can test more patients,” Kaul said in an email to The Daily. “I expect demand will be going up.”

At Saint Francis Hospital, medical practitioners are working to address the rapidly increasing demand for tests in Evanston, according to Vishnu Chundi, the hospital’s infectious diseases chair.

“This morning, when I was driving by, there was a line that snaked around for about a mile for people to get tested,” Chundi said, at a Q&A livestream about COVID-19.

Chundi recommends that asymptomatic residents do not get tested. He also said residents with symptoms should call their primary care doctor to receive a referral for testing.

In a statement to its patients, NorthShore said testing is reserved for “symptomatic, high-risk individuals.” The note stresses NorthShore will not be testing asymptomatic individuals.

NorthShore began working on a test for COVID-19 in January, almost two months before Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a “shelter in place” order in Illinois. After the RNA sequence for the novel coronavirus was shared globally, NorthShore used published data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a test.

Some hospitals take several days to communicate test results, but Kaul said NorthShore guarantees a 24 hour turnaround time and often communicates results within several hours.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @2021_charlie