Free COVID-19 testing at Loreotto Hospital aims to help underserved West Side communities, but carries its own risks

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As Loretto Hospital steps up its offer of free, easy-access testing for COVID-19, the testing process itself creates challenges and risks.

People line up hours before the free COVID-19 testing site opens at 9 a.m. at Loretto each weekday morning.

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"So the process once you get to in the front of the line is probably less than three minutes, but it is the waiting process," said Dr. Nikhila Juvvadi, chief clinical officer at Loretto. "But we try to do the best we can with how many people we have and the resources."

Located in the Austin neighborhood, Loretto has been walking drive thru and walk up testing since April. The virus is disproportionately impacting communities of color.

"Austin is an underserved community in terms of health care in general," said Erin Borders, director of outpatient services. "Most of our patients who come to Loretto and in the community have comorbidity."

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"Everybody, everywhere needs to be tested to make sure that they are safe," said Lozonia Danley, who got tested. "Most of us have family and you want to go spend time with your family and your friends, but if you don't get tested you don't know if you're safe or not."

Loretto collects about 300 specimens a day and send them off to state labs for processing. It could take up to five days to get results. Hospital officials said sometimes it's a challenge to deliver those results.

"A lot of people in the community don't have permanent addresses, maybe moving around from one place to another, maybe not have a cell phone to reach them," Juvvadi said.

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Those staffing the testing site said they know the dangers of their work, but they try to keep it out of mind.

"I want to make sure that people in the community are safe," said Lakeisha Robertson, outpatient manager for Loretto Hospital.

Hospital officials stressed they're not conducting antibody testing there. Their tests can only show you if you have COVID-19.

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