COVID testing site welcomes appointments

Mobile facility at Willowbrook school conducts about 50 tests each Tuesday and Thursday

Officials hope a July 9 open house at the DuPage COVID-19 testing center at Anne M. Jeans School in Willowbrook will make more area residents aware of the facility.

The site, which is a cooperative effort between the school, DuPage County and Pillars Community Health, has been testing patients Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment since June.

"It was really important to me and members of the county board that we support this crucial health effort right here in this community," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said at the event.

Pillars has two other testing sites, one in La Grange and one in Burbank.

"We're testing six days a week across those six locations," said Jackie Gibson, vice president of marketing and business development for Pillars.

The Willowbrook site initially tested about 75 individuals a day and is down to about 50, she said. Some results have taken a week to come in, but that wait time was expected to drop this week with the use of a new lab. The delays are the result of a change in recommendations for longterm care facilities that led to the testing of more of their residents, said Dr. Kisti Catalano, Pillars' chief medical officer.

"Our turnaround times have increased to five to seven days, which we all recognize is not ideal," she said last week. "We know lives are on hold until they get their results."

The new lab should provide results within two to four days, Catalano said. Everyone who has been tested receives a phone call with the results. A negative test is merely an indication that the person does not have COVID-19 on the day they are tested, Catalano emphasized.

"It's not a get out of jail free card. You still need to wear your mask. You still need to social distance."

The test's accuracy depends on the individual's viral load. Someone with a very low viral load could have a false negative. Those who are experiencing symptoms but test negative are advised to self-quarantine and return for another test.

Angela Curran, chief executive officer of Pillars, commended the staff who are working the site in all types of weather. One of the workers on July 9, when the temperature hit 93 degrees, was testing a cooling vest.

"Wearing all this PPE in the 90 degree heat is tough," Catalano said.

The drive-through site has three stations. Workers first separate those with appointments (which are recommended) from walk-ins. Next, people's personal information is verified, and photos are taken of each individual's driver's license and insurance card. A temperature check and swabbing takes place at the third station, administered by Pillars' nurses and dental hygienists who have been specially trained in an effort to keep them employed.

People have an opportunity for a brief medical consult with a doctor at the fourth and final tent, with the whole process taking about 15 minutes. Catalano stressed that it's important to continue to treat COVID-19 seriously.

"I think that people are tired of hearing about COVID. They think COVID is no longer a problem," she said. "They are becoming lax on the recommendations. COVID is still real. COVID is still present. People are still dying from COVID."

Community Consolidated Elementary District 180 Superintendent Tom Schneider, who oversees the school, said his district is dedicated to helping students achieve their highest human potential.

"You can't do that, you can't develop your talents, you can't make the most of your abilities, if you're scared about your health, if you're scared about your family's health, if you're worried about where you're going to eat," he commented.

Adding the COVID testing site to a school that already offers a medical and dental clinic in partnership with Pillars, as well as a food pantry (in cooperation with HCS Family Services) allows educators to serve the entire community and the entire family.

"In doing so, we serve our students," Schneider said.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin agreed.

"We have a lot to learn from the model created here at Anne M. Jeans, which provides such important access to primary health care services from Pillars," Cronin said. "When we work together, we keep families healthier and we keep DuPage County the healthiest county in the state."

Sen. John Curran (R-41, Downers Grove) praised the district for its efforts not just to educate students, but to care for entire families.

"There could be no better place in the county to have this testing center than Anne M. Jeans School," Curran said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean