Evanston residents struggle to find COVID-19 tests amidst nationwide shortage

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Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Antigen tests. As COVID-19 cases surge, Evanston and Chicago face testing shortages while Northwestern continues to hand out rapid testing kits to community members for free.

Lily Carey, Reporter

When Evanston resident Peter Baker and his family were planning to travel out of state for the holidays, they wanted to test for COVID-19 several times during their trip.

However, his search for at-home tests proved difficult. He said all of the CVS and Walgreens stores he checked within a 40-mile radius were out of tests. 

Baker is not alone in his struggle. Chicago area residents have reported trouble with COVID-19 test shortages, unapproved pop-up testing centers and concerns about testing at local schools. 

Evanston recently implemented a vaccination requirement for indoor venues and provided residents with testing and vaccination sites through its website. The Biden administration also promised to distribute millions of free test kits and the state of Illinois has its own database of COVID testing locations.

Still, test kits are in short supply.

“There is clearly a testing demand surge driven by the omicron variant, but there is also a lack of readiness, which should have been put in place in anticipation of the holiday period,” McCormick Prof. Hani Mahmassani said. 

Despite shortages in Evanston, NU has provided free Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Antigen at-home testing kits to its community members throughout the pandemic. Miles White, the executive chairman of the Board at Abbott Laboratories is on NU’s Board of Trustees.

NU is a member of the city’s COVID-19 and Economic Recovery Task Forces and is working closely with Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department, according to University spokesperson Jon Yates

Yates noted that rapid testing is free for campus visitors. According to the NU testing website, this includes prospective students, event attendees, research study participants, and family or friends of students and participants of NU research studies.

Evanston resident and Chiaravelle Montessori school teacher Ann Hudson said she wants to see NU and Evanston take a more collaborative approach to pandemic response.

“Northwestern and Evanston are inextricably linked, and we should all be taking care of each other,” said Hudson. “I think if Evanston has extra resources to share, or Northwestern has extra resources to share, we should all be generous.”

Other residents are concerned that the city needs to be doing more. Baker, who has a 1-year-old son, said he is especially worried about the city’s lack of collaboration with early childhood education centers. 

The state of Illinois’ SHIELD program provides weekly COVID-19 tests to K-12 schools, including Evanston Township High School. However, Baker said, the government needs to be doing more to provide testing to unvaccinated children under age 5. Evanston’s Department of Health and Human Services did not reply to a request for comment.

“It doesn’t feel good to get written to by the health department saying that resources just don’t exist for this kind of testing for all of our daycares,” Baker said. “I just want to feel a little less left on my own about all this.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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