If today’s free COVID testing event in Evanston is any indicator, people are still extremely worried about coming down with the novel coronavirus, even if they do not have any symptoms.

AMITA St. Francis Hospital, in cooperation with the City of Evanston, offered a free drive-thru/walk-up testing session in a parking lot at Evanston Township High School this afternoon. People were lining up at least an hour before the 3 p.m. start time, and all 200 available testing slots were quickly taken.

City Health Director Ike Ogbo, who was at the session, said there is still definitely demand for testing. Ogbo said this is the third such event with AMITA. The first one did 75 tests, the second about 100, and then 200 today. The tests were limited to Evanston residents.

Walk-up patient Skip Sams get his test.

Ogbo said, “People are still taking precautionary measures” by having the test, even if they feel fine.

One of those individuals was Emilio Vargas, who stood in the walk-up line. Vargas said while he currently has no symptoms, he did feel sick early on during the pandemic, and was “curious” to see if he has COVID-19 now.

One reason so many people still want tests, even if they do not feel sick, is changing information about the coronavirus. The list of symptoms has expanded since the pandemic began in March, plus, there has been a lot of publicity about being asymptomatic, having COVID-19 but not feeling any illness at all.

“You could feel fine and be a carrier” of COVID, Ogbo explained. “The test is important. You could be walking around spreading it” and not have any idea.

Results from today’s tests, positive or negative, will be provided in approximately four days. AMITA St. Francis will also provide educational materials.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in March, the City of Evanston says there have been 12,852 tests done at a variety of testing locations in the city.  93.5% of those tests were negative, which makes the positivity rate 6.5% since March. However, the positivity rate has come down in recent weeks, to around two per cent over the last seven-day rolling average.

Evanston has seen a total of 840 positive cases, and 71 deaths.

Ogbo hopes there will be another free testing event with AMITA, perhaps by the end of this month.

If that’s the case, chances are the slots will fill up quickly again. The coronavirus situation is “very unprecedented,” the health director said, “It’s evolving.  None of us have experienced anything like this.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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