Chicago opens COVID-19 testing centers

Chronicle Media

Actor Sean Penn, co-founder of Community Organized Relief Effort, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot talk Monday, May 18, at a city COVID-19 testing site. CORE and the city have partnered to start six testing sites in neighborhoods in need. (Mayor’s Office photo)

Chicago and an organization started by actor Sean Penn are establishing COVID-19 testing facilities to target neighborhoods most in need.

The city has created a partnership with Penn’s Community Organized Relief Effort to start up six city-run testing sites to increase testing over the next several weeks and get a sense of Chicago’s readiness for reopening under its “Protecting Chicago” five-phase framework.

“These new sites serve as the cornerstone of our effort to dramatically expand COVID-19 testing in Chicago … with a special focus on our communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by this disease,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “With the incredible support from our partners at CORE and Curative (a diagnostics start-up), our entire city will also be able to move that much closer to Phase Three of our reopening plan that will allow us to safely ease restrictions on many businesses, support our recovery from this crisis, and get Chicago back on track.”

In partnership with the city’s Racial Equity Rapid Response team and community organizations, the city has already opened and begun operating two testing sites in communities that have experienced a disproportionate impact from COVID-19. The first two sites were Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, which opened May 13, in the Little Village neighborhood and Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy, which opened Friday, May 15, in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood. Together, the two sites are testing symptomatic residents in the surrounding communities and have collectively conducted more than 800 tests in less than a week.

Moving forward, the city will be opening four additional sites — one of which will be in the parking lot of Guaranteed Rate Field. Unlike the others, the Guaranteed Rate site will be testing asymptomatic individuals, focusing specifically on frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic — including both first responders and healthcare workers. The remaining sites will have staggered launches over the next several weeks.

CORE has administered nearly 200,000 free tests at 19 sites across California, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, and the Navajo nation. With a team of 150 staff and 450 volunteers, CORE is focused on expanding free COVID-19 testing to vulnerable and underserved communities, including low-income groups and communities of color, as well as first responders and essential workers.

“We are honored to work alongside collaborative and capable partners such as Mayor Lightfoot and the Rainbow Coalition to offer free testing to Chicago, particularly for communities who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” said Penn.

City officials and CORE co-founders Ann Lee and Penn were joined Monday, May 18, by chef and humanitarian José Andrés, founder of nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which will be providing meals to the medical workers and teams staffing the testing sites. WCK has already distributed 75,000 meals to Chicagoans in need and the city’s frontline workers at hospitals, testing sites, senior centers, and other community sites. Most of the meals are sourced from local restaurants.

“As food first responders who mobilize with the urgency of now in the wake of crises to get fresh meals to affected communities, all of us at World Central Kitchen know that for these testing-site professionals working tirelessly to help others, a nourishing meal is so much more than a plate of food — it’s hope, it’s dignity, and it’s a sign that the entire community stands with them,” said Nate Mook, CEO of WCK. “It’s an honor to work with our friends at CORE to support Chicagoans on the front lines of this crisis.

Increasing its testing capacity is critical as Chicago looks to move into the next phase of its reopening plan. The city must meet critical benchmarks in terms of the amount of people being tested, and it will also rely on data from the testing sites to better understand the spread of the COVID-19 virus. All test results from the sites will be reported to the Chicago Department of Public Health, in accordance with a health order issued in March to help determine the areas where COVID-19 is most prevalent throughout Chicago and assist in determining how to most effectively allocate resources.

“Throughout this pandemic we have talked about the critical importance of expanding the availability of testing as we work to contain the spread of COVID-19 and direct our resources to areas that are most in need,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “We’re now looking to move to the next phase of our response and this additional testing is key to that.”

Symptomatic residents and asymptomatic frontline workers that are looking to be tested for COVID-19 are encouraged to register for a test online at

For information about the city’s response to COVID-19, text COVID19 to   78015, email or visit