Chicago coronavirus testing facility for first responders run by Illinois National Guard opens on NW Side

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new facility to test first responders for COVID-19 has opened on Chicago's Northwest Side, and is being operated by the Illinois National Guard.

Illinois National Guard officials opened the testing site in the 6900-block of West Forest Preserve Drive Monday morning, and the ABC7 I-Team was on hand as police, fire, paramedics and health care workers started lining up for drive-through coronavirus testing.

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The operation is being run by more than 100 newly activated guard members, and the perimeter is carefully controlled by Chicago police. Only certified, credentialed first responders are allowed in and no family members, according to authorities. The facility can offer about 250 per day.

"These are professional doctors or nurses or medical professionals that are supported by logistics folks that are there to manage that line and to help, you know, our neighbors or community, folks in our community, to get through and be tested," said Brigadier General Richard Neely. "Today they started out with the first responders."

Test-givers in personal protective gear were visible at work inside the unmarked, repurposed warehouse facility, taking swab samples from first responders.

There is a premium on getting first responder tests back quickly, as well as achieving faster turnaround on all COVID-19 testing, according to Dr. Eric Mizuno, an internist at Weiss Memorial Hospital.

"The sooner we know what's going on with you, the sooner the patient can know 'I'm fine, I don't need to worry about it' or we have something to deal with," he said. "These PCR machines, they should typically run samples within three hours and so the three to five day wait time, fair enough there's a lot of reasons why this has occurred, but it just delays the whole decision-making process."

Eventually, the National Guard testing facility will transition from first responders to also offer tests for the public.

There is pent up demand for tests in the first responder community, and by 2 p.m. Monday the day's allotment of tests had been used. Those still waiting were told to come back Tuesday.
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