At this time last year, the historic New 400 Theater (6746 N. Sheridan Road) was showing first-run movies. Now, it’s serving as a COVID-19 testing site — opened Dec. 28 — called the Rogers Park COVID Center.
Anyone with symptoms can get tested free of charge using the antigen instinct nasal — as long as they’re displaying symptoms.
Theater owner Tony Fox said turning the theater into a testing site took a few weeks. He and his friend Mark Baker, owner and CEO of Lead Healthcare and part-owner of the Rogers Park COVID Center, teamed up to make testing for the community a reality.
“The theater was at testing capacity by day three after opening,” Fox said.
Baker has a license qualifying him to administer COVID-19 tests, and after a few weeks, the two received the necessary licenses to test at the theater. The theater qualifies for a federal program as part of the CARES Act, which allows the center to receive reimbursement for tests.
“I’m good friends with Tony and he was expressing his frustration of being shut down and trying to pay his staff, so I said why don’t we try to get a laboratory certification to try to get testing at the theater,” Baker said.
Those coming to get tested fill out an online questionnaire before coming in, according to Baker.
The tests are free for anyone who has symptoms, whether they are insured or not. The theater isn’t checking patients for symptoms and is based on the honors system, according to Fox and Baker. Tests for people without symptoms are $100.
The theater has a certified medical assistant conducting the tests, according to Baker. Additionally, there are two other people who work with insurance and report the test results to the Illinois Department of Health within 24 hours.
Fox said it takes about 30 minutes for results to come back which is much quicker than other PCR tests.
To get such fast results, the workers at the theater put the swab in a solution and then drop that solution onto a slide for a microscope. If the person is positive for COVID-19, the slide lights up, according to Fox.
Fox said the theater intends to stay open as a testing site as long as it’s needed and hopefully bring movies back to the big screen when testing is no longer in such high demand. If there’s still a need for testing once the movie theater business resumes, Fox said they plan to move the testing site upstairs.
“We have gotten lots of emails about our customers missing the theater,” Fox said. “Our customers have frequently bought popcorn to show us support and have told us they really miss coming to see movies at the 400.”
Tests at the theater are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment only.