Our reporter's swab forward report on her rapid COVID test

600 tests available, for a charge, Wednesday and Saturday in River Forest

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

Oh, and she's negative

On Tuesday, I found out that someone I'd been in "close contact" with a few days prior (talking for at least 15 minutes without masks within six feet of one another) had just tested positive for COVID-19.

Cases have been skyrocketing locally, so I immediately set up quarantine in my basement and decided to get tested.

I looked online to find somewhere to go for a test, and I was surprised at the lack of availability of testing.

Places like CVS provide COVID-19 testing at many locations, but appointments are required, and they were booked out days in advance. Same with Rush and other nearby clinics and hospital. Did I really want to wait almost a week to make an appointment for a test, the results of which I wouldn't get for days after?

I finally settled on Loretto Hospital in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side. There, the tests are free, which wasn't necessary for me, though is a requirement for many people. The hospital is close by. And, most importantly, no appointment was required.

I showed up around 8:45 a.m. for testing that began at 9. There were probably about 100 people already in line, and it was cold outside, a chilly morning after several days of unseasonably warm weather. Over the course of about two hours, I advanced from black sidewalk marking to black sidewalk marking, each one measuring the distance I needed to stay from other people in line. We were all wearing masks.

As I rounded the corner of the hospital, I saw that the testing was taking place in a canvas tent in the parking lot. Workers coming and leaving the tent were in full protective gear, and I wanted to joke with the people near me in line that it felt like a post-apocalyptic novel, but we were keeping our 6-foot distance and not talking.

Finally, I made it to the front of the line and was waved into the tent. I was ushered to a chair. My paperwork hung on a string in front of me, a detail that seemed even more dystopian, and I double-checked to make sure my name was on it. I bent back my head and had my nose swabbed. I was told to leave.

"When will I get results?" I asked. If positive, said the woman who'd swabbed me, I'd receive a call within five days. If negative, I wouldn't get a call, but I could show up and wait in a different line in exactly a week to request a copy of my results.

I went home knowing no more than I had when I left my house that morning and unsure when I'd get an answer. Two days later, I still had no news.

And then, coincidentally, a week now since exposure, and still unsure if I'd contracted COVID, I read an email from my boss about a rapid COVID testing program coming to River Forest. I was to do a story on it.

Lee Neubecker, River Forest resident and chair of the village's Economic Development Commission, has organized a rapid COVID-19 testing event in town on two dates, Nov. 18 and 21. Neubecker talked about his involvement with Concierge Covid, the group that's coming to administer the tests, and about the benefits of rapid testing to help stop the spread of COVID.

Neubecker said he'd organized the drive-up rapid testing in River Forest because of his own experience trying in vain to find somewhere to get tested quickly.

Neubecker's story shared some similarities with mine. At the end of October, he spiked a fever and tried to find somewhere to get a rapid test. He wanted to know right away if he was positive. But he couldn't find anywhere to go that didn't require an appointment and wasn't booked out days in advance.

That's when he called Matt Schipper, who had recently started a business running rapid COVID tests. Schipper swabbed Neubecker that day. The result was positive, and Neubecker immediately quarantined himself.

Neubecker put me in touch with Schipper, and I drove into the city that afternoon for a test.

***

"It's kind of like waiting for a pregnancy test in high school," said Schipper as he put three drops of a solution that my nasal swab had been swirled in into a hole on a plastic testing device.

It did resemble a pregnancy test. The control line showed up right away, an indication that the test was functioning properly, but we had to wait 15 minutes to see if a second line would appear; if it did, I had COVID. If not, I was fine.

"With some people, that second line shows up right away," said Schipper. "You know immediately they have it." Some of those people, he said, reported having no symptoms. He said he always goes back and asks if they're sure they had no signs.

"Well," they sometimes say, "I couldn't smell my coffee this morning. But other than that, not really."

But loss of smell is a widely recognized symptom, said Schipper. It's certainly on all the "common symptoms of COVID" lists. And some of these people, who don't have symptoms or don't recognize their symptoms, are going about business like usual. In other words, these people are not all quarantining, and are potentially spreading COVID wherever they go.

Schipper is young and energetic. He's got a great sense of humor, and he's smart. His office is in the old Jam Productions building in Old Town, and Schipper has a history in the music and entertainment arena. He's CEO of Event Medical Solutions, a company that provides full medical teams and risk assessment at major music and sporting events. They handle Lollapalooza every year. Soldier Field. They were hired by the City of Chicago to run McCormick Place's Special Operations Response Management Team at the onset of COVID.

But with summer events being cancelled due to COVID, Schipper had to pause and rethink. The more he talked to people, the more he realized that there was a lack of availability of quick, same-day COVID testing.

And thus, he formed Covid Concierge, a business through which he provides rapid COVID testing to families and sports teams. To businesses. To organizations – and individuals – needing quick and accurate testing.

"We want to provide same day testing with no wait," Schipper said. More than that, he provides follow-up with the people he tests.

"We don't just swab and let you leave," said Schipper. Positive results are delivered along with instructions to quarantine, including how long it should be done and what to do if symptoms worsen. Positive results for a person who's asymptomatic include a second test, this one run through the lab, to ensure that the rapid result was accurate.

***

My test had been waiting 15 minutes, and there was no second line. But Schipper fed the strip into a machine.

"It leaves the guesswork out," he said. "Eliminates human error." In a few seconds, my result showed on the screen.

Negative.

I knew that there was still a chance I would become positive (symptoms can show up any time between two days and two weeks), but it had been a week since my exposure, and odds were I hadn't contracted it.

Getting quick results is essential in stopping the spread of COVID, Schipper said.

"The denial of 20-somethings about COVID blows my mind," he added. He said he's seen people with symptoms that think they don't have it until they see the positive result. And that, he said, is dangerous, because they go around exposing other people.

What he likes about rapid tests, and why he's invested in them, is because they give immediate results that kind of slap people in the face with the truth (my words, not his), that wake them up to the fact that they need to stay home. They also stop the fear; there's no need to wait for days to find out if you have COVID or not.

The fact is that anyone exposed should quarantine regardless of whether or not they take a test. But the truth is that not everyone does. Having access to a quick test and immediate results provides a concrete answer, a definite way to let someone know they need to stay home.

This week, with kids returning from colleges and Thanksgiving approaching, Schipper wants to offer the opportunity for people locally to get rapidly tested.

It might be safer not to gather for Thanksgiving at all. Gov. J. B. Pritzker recommends smaller and virtual celebrations this year, as cases around the state spike.

So if you are going to gather with family, getting tested beforehand makes sense. Sure, you could have contracted the illness after your test. Or tested too soon. There are no guarantees.

But if you want a test before digging into pie with your family, or want to make sure you don't need to lock your college kid in the basement for a week, here's how to get tested in River Forest:

  • Covid Concierge will be offering rapid COVID-19 testing at First Presbyterian Church of River Forest (7551 Quick Ave.) on Wednesday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 21. On each date, 300 tests will be administered, and pre-registration is required at covidconcierge.us.
  • You do not need to be a River Forest resident to register.
  • The tests cost $175, payable by cash or credit card. Covid Concierge will provide a receipt with a CPT code that can be submitted to insurance. Check with your insurance company to see if it will be covered.
  • Test results will be emailed within two to three hours of testing.
  • Anyone can register and be tested regardless of symptoms. Tests are done via a nasal swab.

For information on other testing options, including free testing, the Village of River Forest has a list at vrf.us/news/item/389.

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Reader Comments

3 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Matt Baron  

Posted: November 19th, 2020 11:49 AM

Excellent, first-person reporting, Maria! Glad you tested negative....and hope it stays that way.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: November 16th, 2020 11:51 AM

The Illinois testing location is no longer on Forest Preserve Drive. It also should not be open since the test person has you get out of the car and the test person gets into your car. Licenses are now being extended although Illinois Testing Centers are still open and can transfer the virus to the driver

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: November 16th, 2020 8:08 AM

This past July, I got my test at the old EPA car exhaust test center up on Forest Preserve Drive (near Harlem Lake Shopping Plaza). It was very quick, you can stay in your car the entire time. They did a nose swab. I got results in about three days. Negative, thankfully.

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