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East St. Louis Gets COVID-19 Testing Site, Weeks After Other Cities In The Region

Nurses greet a patient in their car to be tested for the COVID-19 at the Mercy Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield on Saturday morning. Missouri has four known cases of the new coronavirus virus as of Friday evening. 3/14/20
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Nurses greet a patient to be tested for the COVID-19 virus at the Mercy Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield. East St. Louis will get its first testing facility more than a month after ones first opened parts of the metro region.

EAST ST. LOUIS — The city will have its first coronavirus testing site up and running by the end of the week, Mayor Robert Eastern announced this morning. The testing facility comes to East St. Louis weeks after many others opened in the Metro East and Missouri.

The city is behind on testing its residents even though the coronavirus poses more of a risk for many residents. African Americans have high rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension and obesity — all conditions that make COVID-19 deadlier, according to the CDC.

There are 41 positive cases in East St. Louis, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s map of coronavirus cases by ZIP code. In St. Clair County, there are more than 190 confirmed cases.

East St. Louis is one of the last places in the Metro East to get a testing site, similar to north St. Louis, which received testing and medical support for the pandemic later than wealthier communities. 

“This pandemic has exposed the harsh and grim reality of subpar health care that has led to glaring comorbidity rates for citizens in impoverished communities, particularly for African Americans,” said state Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia. “Access to quality health care must be a right of every single person in this country, no matter what their socioeconomic status or ZIP code.” 

The mayor pushed against the suggestion that East St. Louis did not receive a testing site sooner because the community is predominantly black. The delay in East St. Louis getting a testing site was a product of Illinois directing resources to more densely populated areas of the state, like Chicago and the collar counties, Eastern said.

He also blamed the federal government for not having a comprehensive response to the coronavirus.

“There was no plan,” Eastern said. “Everyone was scrambling around trying to figure out what they need to do for their respective communities and respective states.”

Belt and state Rep. Latoya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, announced three new Metro East testing sites, including the one in East St. Louis, over the weekend. The location for the other two sites have not been announced yet. 

The Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation system will run COVID-19 testing at the three sites, taking up to 470 test swabs per day. Anderson Hospital in Madison County will process the swabs. 

It’s not clear how many people will be tested per day, since some tests require multiple swabs.

The announcement of East St. Louis’ site might be premature. SIHF hasn’t actually received any testing supplies yet and may not be able to start testing for COVID-19 this week, a spokesperson for the system said.

East St. Louis will likely see a spike in coronavirus cases once testing does begin, Eastern said.

“As the testing we’re going to be doing in the city [starts, we’re] sure to have a spike in the numbers,” he said. “I don’t think that we’re going to be hit any harder. I think we’re just not being tested as frequently as the other people in our community.”

People can be tested for COVID-19 at the Windsor Health Center downtown, after they are pre-screened over the phone, Eastern said.

“The testing will be complete within the hour, and you should have your testing results by the end of the day,” he said.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Send questions and comments about this article to: feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.
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