COVID-19 vaccinations are up in Illinois but tests are declining

Illinois health department figures obtained by the I-Team show the largest drop in COVID-19 testing since the pandemic began occurred in the month of February.

Video Transcript

CHUCK GOUDIE: Judy, tonight Illinois Health Department figures obtained by the I-Team show the largest drop in COVID-19 testing since the pandemic began occurring in the month of February. And now here on March 1st new concerns about what that means for the detection of variant versions of the virus, and most importantly, what it means for those trying to stop the variant spread.

Illinois Public Health officials tonight reporting the smallest one-day increase in confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases since late last July. On the face of it that seems good news, except for a possible cause of the decline, a sharp drop in the number of people being tested for the virus here.

During the month of February, an average of about 75,000 people were tested each day. That is a 16% drop in testing from January, and the largest month-to-month plunge since the pandemic started. The peak of COVID testing in Illinois came during November, when more than 92,000 people were tested per day, falling just slightly in December and January, and then the giant drop last month, precisely when health officials say concerns about variant forms of the virus were and still are accelerating.

This comes also as reported COVID deaths are dropping as well in Illinois, from 89 per day in January to 45 each day in February, a decline of almost 50%. The concern is that without steady testing, variant versions of the virus may re-accelerate cases and deaths.

And tonight, even with those declining numbers, University of Illinois has just received emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for its saliva-based COVID-19 test that has been used on campus for months. That approval for what U of I has branded Shield Illinois now opens the door to other universities and private industry to increase testing.

BEN TAYLOR: This will really swing open the doors wide to availability for more universities, more school systems, more companies, more units of government who want to utilize the saliva tests to protect their people.

CHUCK GOUDIE: State officials last summer jumped the gun on U of I's saliva test, claiming it had federal emergency use authorization at that time when it happened. Tonight with the FDA'S approval official, Governor J.B Pritzker now jumping on an expansion effort for the U of I's saliva test, moving forward with an aggressive $20 million plan for the initial purchase of a million tests that will be divvied up to all of Illinois' public universities and dozens of community colleges.