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Community-based COVID testing options limited in metro Quad Cities

Leaders at the Rock Island County Health Department are asking for more permanent testing sites in the region on regular calls with the state health department.

ROCK ISLAND COUNTY, Ill. — About one year ago, getting tested for COVID-19 was the regular message sent by local health leaders.

"We're just at a different stage of the pandemic," said Janet Hill, Chief Operating Officer at the Rock Island County Health Department.

One year later, there is still a need for testing within the county.

"Cases are rising everywhere," Hill said. "Positivity is rising everywhere, so it really is a prioritization of where the most people can be helped."

Rock Island County health leaders meet weekly with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The county health department's administrator also has regular meetings with leaders at IDPH, according to Hill.

"She's expressed several times through surveys and reaching out to staff that we would love to have a testing facility here," Hill said of administrator Nita Ludwig.

The closest state-run community testing sites are in Peoria and Rockford, each about 90 minutes away from the metro Illinois Quad Cities.

Illinois State Representative Mike Halpin said that is simply not close enough.

"The reality is if you are sick and if you do have COVID, it's difficult to make that trip," Halpin said.

The Rock Island County Health department reported on Wednesday 601 new COVID-19 cases over the span of two days. The case positivity rate in the county is more than 27 percent, according to a statement from the county.

Because of the rising case numbers and hospitalizations, actually starting a testing site is more challenging. Halpin also said it is a challenge to find the right people and space, when the county health department is focused on providing opportunities for vaccination.

"Our hospital system staff is pressed to the limit, as is the county health department, and so it's been very difficult to be able to coral those resources to make it happen, but we're still working on it," Halpin said.

Halpin said his office is looking for community and health care organizations that could support a more permanent testing site in the Illinois Quad Cities area.

"I think we do need more local options, and we're going to do our best to make that happen," Halpin said.

News 8 emailed and called the Illinois Department of Public Health to learn more about the process for selecting and supplying the state-run testing sites. Department representatives did not respond to our requests before Thursday evening.

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