St. Louisans Are Turning To Illinois For Their Coronavirus Testing Needs
With coronavirus cases spiking across the region, some St. Louisans are heading to Illinois to get tested for the virus.
They’re crossing over the Mississippi River for many reasons, but mostly to find faster, cheaper and more consistent testing options.
Billy Brown went to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis to be tested for the coronavirus before seeing relatives for Thanksgiving.
“My wife and I did a lot of research on what is the best and safest option, especially for two people who don’t think they have it,” said Brown, a south St. Louis resident. “We didn’t want to risk unnecessary exposure.”
The drive-thru testing site is run by the Illinois Department of Public Health and has since moved to the St. Clair Square mall in Fairview Heights to accommodate more people and tests.
Brown said he expected a long wait at the center, but the total trip only took an hour.
“My wife drove, and I had my Nintendo Switch and I didn’t even touch it. It was that quick,” Brown said. “I honestly don’t know how they could have turned us around quicker.”
Other St. Louis residents were attracted to the testing site in East St. Louis because coronavirus tests there are free. Jim Gass, a University City resident, went there in late August when he started to feel COVID-19 symptoms a week after moving to Missouri.
“The one place I knew I could get tested free of charge, because I didn’t really know any place in Missouri yet, was the testing center in East St. Louis,” he said.
A free testing option was critical for Gass, because he doesn’t currently have health insurance and didn’t want to risk paying the full cost of a coronavirus test, he said. Gass added that he had only heard of a few temporary testing sites in Missouri that didn’t charge for a test.
“Throughout the whole pandemic, that location in East St. Louis has been open and available,” he said.
St. Louisans are also using Illinois testing options beyond those that are state run. Jeff Jacobs, a special education teacher in Edwardsville who lives in the Central West End, had been getting rapid coronavirus testing in Cahokia every week while school was still in person.
He explained he could get tested in Cahokia, Alton or St. Louis.
“I just won't go back to that one in St. Louis, because it took about two hours to get through the line,” Jacobs said. “It’s worth it to go to Alton, which is even further out of the way.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid