Coronavirus testing: Illinois lags behind most states, but rates improving

ByChuck Goudie, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Ross Weidner and Jonathan Fagg WLS logo
Friday, March 27, 2020
Illinois lags in coronavirus testing, but rates are improving
Illinois lags behind a majority of states when it comes to coronavirus tests, but the I-Team found that rates are picking up.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois lags behind the majority of states when it comes to coronavirus testing, but figures here are improving after a slow start.

At first glance the numbers are distressing; Illinois is ranked 28th nationally in the rate of COVID-19 testing due to a very slow start that sunk us deep into the pack. On March 12, only 300 people in Illinois had been tested.

Even though the pace began to pick up, as of Thursday, March 26, more than half the nation did more testing per population than Illinois.

New York and Washington are the best-performing states, but the rate of Illinois testing put us worse off than Wisconsin, Alaska and the Dakotas based on tests per population.

The good news is there has been a surge of testing in Illinois. From the new National Guard outpost on Chicago's Northwest Side to a private drive-through clinic near Lincoln Park, the result is what was a sluggish 300 tests two weeks ago increased last week and is now more than 50 times where it started at nearly 17,000 people tested. As of Friday evening, almost 22,000 total swab tests have been conducted in Illinois.

Testing continues to surge at several government and private sites in metro Chicago and northwest Indiana. Both states are now reporting the largest daily increase in cases so far.

In Indiana, data shows testing expanded by 2,300 people to a total of more than 6,900. Illinois testing jumped by 5,000 in just one day.

"We're increasing testing, but not enough. There is a vast number of people who have COVID-19 who are not even tested," said Governor JB Pritzker.

"We did not have the capacity to test everybody that was asymptomatic and we still don't. We still don't," said Dr. Sunit Singla, critical care pulmonologist at UI Health. "We could very well see an exponential increase in the number of critically ill in the next week or two, we just don't know."

Even for those who have been tested, it still takes up to five days to get results and sometimes longer. Even as the state gets more test kits, the new problem is there are not enough lab technicians to process the tests.

The Indiana Department of Health responded with the following statement:

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) is focused on testing the highest-risk and most severely ill people. The CDC offers guidance on testing ( and says not all individuals with mild illness need to be tested. This guidance helps those who have mild symptoms similar to a cold recover at home and allows the healthcare system to focus on patients who truly need emergent care. Individuals should monitor their symptoms and call a healthcare provider if those symptoms, such as cough, fever and especially shortness of breath, worsen. Providers have been told to use their best clinical judgment to determine who should be tested and to pursue private labs if the patient falls outside the criteria for testing by the state lab.

Every state has experienced challenges getting testing supplies. ISDH has been working diligently to expand testing through partnerships with Eli Lilly and the addition of other labs. The number of people tested has risen from 264 on March 20 to 6,936 today as a result of those efforts.