Nearly 7 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted in the state since the pandemic began, and Gov. JB Pritzker said in a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 21, that the state sent out its first shipment of a new test that will help increase that capacity.

The Abbott Labs BinaxNOW tests are rapid tests recently purchased and distributed to states by the federal government. Illinois has shipped 170,000 to local health departments, Pritzker said.

“The federal government and Abbott have indicated that these shipments will continue on a weekly basis through at least the end of 2020 and will total over 3 million tests for the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said, noting they are manufactured in Illinois, where Abbott has hired more than 2,000 employees in their Gurnee manufacturing plant.

Pritzker said the state is “piloting their usage in several different settings in order to gather more data about their accuracy and sensitivity, and then adjusting our plan to achieve the maximum impact.”

Pritzker said local health departments can choose to distribute their tests where needed locally, including for schools, to first responders, at federally-qualified health centers, and to homeless service organizations.

Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ezike also gave an update on the state’s plan for distributing a vaccine, although there is still no telling when one will be available and at what quantities.“Let me be clear: Illinois will not distribute a vaccine until we have one that is proven safe and effective,” Pritzker said. “We have a highly qualified team of experts from the private and public sectors teamed up to evaluate the public data and process when the vaccine data is made available over the coming weeks or months. And I’ll make sure that you can hear from them when the time comes.”

Illinois’ plan “is designed to provide an equitable distribution across the state with priority access going to our most vulnerable populations,” Pritzker said, noting the vaccine would be free. It would first be targeted to frontline health care workers when available.

In order to achieve herd immunity, Ezike said, about 80 percent of Illinoisans would have to be vaccinates, although she said the vaccine will not be mandated.

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