Testing ramps up in Winnebago County

ROCKFORD — The percentage of Winnebago County residents testing positive for COVID-19, the potentially fatal respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, has increased in recent weeks as testing has ramped up.

Still, the Winnebago County Health Department said the city’s COVID-19 testing sites at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, 1601 Parkview Avenue, and at Auburn High School have easily met the demand for tests.

About 1,100 Winnebago County residents have undergone COVID-19 testing at the College of Medicine since the site opened last Friday, said Winnebago County Health Department Administrator Sandra Martell. Crusader Community Health Clinic’s testing site at Auburn High School submitted 158 COVID tests this week.

Each site is capable of testing up to 500 people per day.

Martell used Thursday’s media briefing to emphasize COVID-19 testing at the two drive-through sites is free of charge, does not require an appointment, a doctor’s note or insurance.

Those who wish to be tested do need to show identification.

“I really want everyone to understand that this is a benefit to our community,” she said. “This is all being done as part of the state and national response to COVID-19.”

Across the county, a total of 4,663 test have been administered, including those at the drive-through locations.

'Hot spot'

Shortly before Martell spoke at Thursday’s news conference, Gov. JB Pritzker referred to the city as a “hot spot” for the coronavirus in response to a question during his daily news conference in Chicago.

The governor was asked if he would consider allowing local authorities to modify the stay-at-home order to make it less restrictive.

Pritzker said the state was following the science in determining when to lift restrictions and noted the virus doesn’t know regional boundaries.

In Illinois, “we’ve seen the number of infections that come from one person who’s infected go down over time,” Pritzker said. “That’s not an accident. It doesn’t happen by nature that it went down. It went down because people stayed at home. It’s because people are following the social distancing rules.”

Then, since a question came from a 1440 WROK reporter in Rockford, he spoke about the city specifically.

“Unfortunately Rockford is a hot spot in the state. Winnebago County has quite a number of infections,” Pritzker said. “It’s something we’re watching very closely, and it’s why people who live in that area and the surrounding counties need to be extraordinarily careful.”

The Winnebago County Health Department reported an additional 23 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the countywide total to 426. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the county remained unchanged at 14.

“Our positivity rate has been increasing steadily over the last two weeks,” Martell said. “We started at approximately 11% positive and we’re up around 17 % at present.”

Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney said the county must continue to follow the governor’s modified stay-at-home order, which is scheduled to expire at the end of May.

“I wish I was hearing differently from our local folks about the metric and I look forward to the day when that is absolutely the case,” Haney said. “We are seeing an increase in cases and and we are not seeing a decrease in the percentage of positives as testing has increased. We need to continue to improve at every level we possibly can.”

Saying we should take a “people first mentality” while addressing the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Tom McNamara on Thursday blasted MercyHealth CEO Javon Bea’s decision to no longer accept Medicaid patients covered by three different managed care organizations beginning this summer.

“This has a potentially staggering impact and could impact the care of 66,000 of our most vulnerable citizens whose insurance will not be accepted,” McNamara said. “That’s 66,000 of our friends and neighbors whose access to basic health care is now in peril while they look to secure alternative care providers. I certainly don’t fault Javon or any CEO for negotiating a better deal that would benefit their organization. However, to take this action during a global pandemic truly leaves me confused and disappointed. This is certainly not, in my opinion, making decisions with people first. This is making decisions with dollars first.”

If implemented, the actions that Bea would like to put in place would put lives at risk, McNamara said.

“To shift these financial burdens to the backs of the most vulnerable patients in our community, to me is unconscionable,” McNamara said. “So, shame on Javon for his most recent decision.”

Register Star staff writer Kevin Haas contributed to this report.

Ken DeCoster: kdecoster@rrstar.com; @DeCosterKen