U.S Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said COVID-19 analyzers meant for Loyola were “commandeered,” or taken, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and distributed elsewhere, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar Sept. 14.
Durbin said Loyola and Illinois State University both ordered test supplies through the manufacturer Quidel, however they never got the items as HHS used executive power to reallocate the supplies to other facilities.
“While there are certainly other entities that are also in dire need of testing supplies, I am concerned that this action has diverted tests that schools had expected to arrive in time for the beginning of the school year, harming their efforts to keep their students, staff and communities safe,” Durbin wrote in the letter.
It’s unclear where the supplies meant for Loyola ended up as HHS did not respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment. However, the department put out a statement Aug. 20 about prioritizing nursing homes.
“We are invoking the priority rating of the Defense Production Act to expedite shipments of instruments and antigen tests to give nursing homes the ability to perform these rapid tests,” Assistant Secretary for Health and COVID-19 Testing Coordinator Brett Giroir said in the statement. “HHS will continue to explore every possible avenue to get life-saving supplies to the frontlines of this war on the virus.”
Durbin held a press conference alongside university officials at Loyola’s Maywood Campus Sept. 14 to address the testing challenges at universities, according to a press release from his office.
The senator was not available for an interview, but in the press release he called out the Trump administration for its handling of schools reopening.
“At the same time the White House was pressuring our schools to reopen, the Administration was telling schools that the test supplies they had ordered wouldn’t be coming to them anymore, because HHS stepped in and redirected them elsewhere,” Durbin said.
Joan Holden, director of Loyola’s wellness center, said the university ordered four analyzers — the machine used to read test results — from Quidel in early July, however only received two Aug. 5.
Two days after the two analyzers arrived, the university was told the government took the other two machines ordered. Loyola was promised the two additional analyzers by early September, but it fell through once again — now, the government is telling Loyola it’ll have to wait until mid-October for the machines, Holden said.
Holden said the university had planned to open up a testing center at Water Tower Campus, however without the additional analyzers it can’t happen.
“Because we don’t have the analyzers that we need, our ability to open the Water Tower satellite clinic is impacted,” Holden said. “If we don’t have an analyzer to read the test result there’s no point in doing the test.”
Holden said all of the analyzers are currently being used to their full capacity at the testing sites on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (LSC). There are currently two testing sites at LSC, one at the satellite clinic located at 6576 N. Sheridan Rd. and the other on the bottom floor of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability.
Holden said the university still plans to open up testing at WTC as soon as they receive the analyzers.
Having an analyzer at WTC would make tests more accessible for students at Arrupe College— Loyola’s two year college — and for Loyola students and staff who live closer to the downtown campus, according to Holden.
“I know that we’re all online but there are people that live around Water Tower Campus that would prefer to go there if they’re sick or to be tested,” Holden said.