Evanston hospitals conduct thousands of COVID-19 tests, expand to antibody testing


Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Drive-through COVID-19 testing is conducted in a parking lot in Chicago. Antibody tests will soon be available at Evanston hospitals, where thousands of tests for COVID-19 have already been administered.

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

Over 2,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered to Evanston residents, according to Mayor Steve Hagerty. Now, local health systems are expanding capabilities to include antibody testing

AMITA Health hopes to have the tests available within the next week or two, while NorthShore University HealthSystem is planning on rolling out the first phases of its antibody testing this week. The tests can determine if a person has previously been infected with the virus, and may be able to say if a person is immune to COVID-19.

“NorthShore has been carefully evaluating several antibody tests for the past few weeks; and performance has been quite variable,” NorthShore senior director of public relations Jim Anthony told The Daily in an email. “We are going live this week with one manual test that we have confidence in.”

NorthShore plans to have additional automated antibody testing available in two to three weeks, according to Anthony.

Antibody tests are also useful for community-based research, according to Elizabeth McNally, the director of the Feinberg Center for Genetic Medicine. Public health officials use test results to help determine infection rates across a population. Additionally, McNally said that antibody tests are much less complex than COVID-19 tests.

“The good thing about antibody testing is it’s actually really easy to do, so it’s a lot easier to roll that out and do on a population level than virus testing,” McNally said.

As of Monday, of the 2,002 COVID-19 tests administered in Evanston, 16 percent have come back positive.

On a day-to-day basis, the NorthShore health system has the capacity to test 1,200 patients per day for COVID-19, a figure that has nearly tripled since the health system first began in-house testing last month.

NorthShore alone has accounted for 13 percent of all COVID-19 testing in Illinois. Since the start of the pandemic, the health system has administered 27,000 tests, Anthony said.

At AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital, COVID-19 testing is reserved for current patients or those showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Olga Solares, AMITA Health associate vice president of communications and media relations, said St. Francis Hospital has “limited testing processing capabilities at this time.”

Solares emphasized that St. Francis is not offering “community or general public testing” and that there was no exact time frame for when testing capabilities will be expanded.

Meanwhile, smaller operations, like Howard Brown Health’s Clark clinic, are offering testing to the public at no charge.

Howard Brown Health has instituted “community care stations” outside many of its clinics, including the Clark clinic, which is open Monday through Friday. Patients at these stations can speak to medical providers about their symptoms at no charge. If a COVID-19 test is determined to be needed, the test will also be free.

Erik Roldan, Howard Brown Health director of communications, said appointments are not required, but he recommends anyone seeking care call before visiting a care station.

As of Monday, the Clark location had administered 112 COVID-19 tests, of which 22 had positive results. At this time, Roldan said Howard Brown Health has no plans to also implement antibody testing.

Although they have never run out of COVID-19 tests or the necessary equipment, the fluctuating supply of personal protective equipment has been cause for concern for clinics, Roldan said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jasonbeeferman

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