Increased community spread, the start of flu season and holiday preparations have caused a sharp uptick in the demand for COVID-19 tests and in the length of the lines McHenry County residents must endure to get them, said Heather Keirnan, vice president of operations for Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care.
The lines of cars at Northwestern Medicine’s drive-thru sites have gotten longer – and many have begun to form even earlier in the morning – in the past few weeks, Keirnan said in an interview Monday.
“We are seeing long lines across all of our locations,” Keirnan said. “We definitely are doing everything we can to bring on more folks to be able to handle the increased demand, but we haven’t seen any of our lines get shorter because the number of people seeking COVID tests just seems to be growing daily.”
State-run mobile testing sites in McHenry County have seen a significant increase in the length of lines from October to November as well, but have been able to accommodate the spike in demand thus far, McHenry County Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said Monday.
Fortunately, this increase in testing has not led to the kinds of shortages in the availability of test kits that the state experienced at the start of the pandemic as health authorities were able to better prepare this time around, Keirnan said.
Mike Danahey, of Carpentersville, said he waited to get a test at the state-run facility at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville for five hours on Sunday. He got in line about 9 a.m. and then just as he neared the front of the line about 2 p.m., Danahey said he was told the site would have to close early because of hazardous winds.
“I waited and waited, and after a while, it just became me being stubborn,’” he said. “I actually got out of the car at least twice just to stretch my legs. From a five-hour trip, I mean, you could be down to St. Louis almost in that amount of time.”
While he was waiting for a test to “be on the safe side” after seeing his doctor about a sinus infection, Danahey said the experience made him think about those who may need a test more urgently and who may not have time to wait in a five-hour line.
“People wanted to go get tested, obviously. They’re doing the right thing by getting tested, and then there’s going to be frustration from people who are turned away,” he said.
COVID-19 testing is offered on the Northwestern Medicine Huntley campus at 10400 Haligus Road as well as at Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care McHenry at 2507 N. Richmond Road. Drive-thru sites also are available at immediate care locations in Sycamore and Glenview, Keirnan said.
Testing sites affiliated with Northwestern Medicine require an order from one of their doctors in order to be tested, Keirnan said. Those who do not have a primary care provider with Northwestern Medicine can schedule an appointment at one of their immediate care centers to ask for an order.
Doctor's orders are not needed at testing sites run by the state. Those sites are open to anyone regardless of insurance or symptoms.
Northwestern Medicine is happy to accommodate anyone with a doctor’s order who wants to be tested for the virus, but Keirnan said she would encourage people to think critically about why they feel they need a test before they go.
“The best way to avoid a long line is to hopefully, at all costs, avoid the need to have a test,” Keirnan said. “One of the things that I think people would do well to understand is what really accounts for a true exposure. … What we look at is were you directly exposed to someone with COVID, meaning you were within 6 feet of that person unmasked for longer than 15 minutes.”
Getting tested for COVID-19 does not replace the other safety measures designed to control the spread of the virus, such as wearing a mask, quarantining and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, she said.
Northwestern Medicine is working to keep lines down and streamline the testing process, she said. The latest of these efforts came when Northwestern Medicine “winterized” their testing sites and decided to bring more of their IT equipment outside into trailers for easier access by staff.
Many people have tried to come in the early morning before the immediate care sites open at 8 a.m. to be the first in line when the testing starts, but Keirnan said she’s not sure that this makes much of a difference anymore and asked for patience and understanding.
All Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care testing sites in the region run from
8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the exception of the Sycamore location, which runs from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., she said.
State-run mobile testing sites will be available at First United Methodist Church in Harvard on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21 and at Marlowe Middle School in Lake in the Hills on Nov. 28 and 29, Salvatelli said. Both sites will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.