Call with Casten, doctor tells seniors of scarcity in testing, masks

  • Sean Casten

    Sean Casten

Updated 4/14/2020 11:50 AM

Tests for the COVID-19 virus and masks to help prevent its spread were top of mind for seniors in a telephone town hall with a congressman and a doctor.

Hosted by the AARP, the call featured 6th District U.S. Rep. Sean Casten and Dr. Kate Rowland, a physician at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora.


Their message was that coronavirus tests and N95 masks are scarce resources being allocated carefully to people showing virus symptoms and medical workers most in need.

Casten, a Downers Grove Democrat, and Rowland, a board member of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians, both said there are not enough tests available yet to screen a broad segment of the population. That's why those who show symptoms or work to treat people who are sick are being given priority.

The process of trying to access testing for people who have symptoms such as a fever, sore throat, dry cough or lost sense of smell begins with a phone call to their doctor, Rowland said. Health care providers are using screening questions to "walk you through what should happen next," she said.

Those 65 and older are at a higher risk of contracting serious cases of the COVID-19 illness, but Rowland and Casten advised those listening to Monday night's call that testing still might not be available.

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"If you ask for a test and are told you can't get one, please be respectful and civil," Casten said. "That person no doubt wishes they had more tests as well."

Across the country, there have been more than 100,000 new tests conducted each day for all of April, with a peak of 229,268 on April 4, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The past few days, there were 136,384 tests conducted on Saturday, 140,226 on Sunday and 129,114 on Monday, data from the project show.

Casten said the nation will need to conduct five or six times this volume of testing to have a "statistically broad sample of the population" and to determine there will not be a high number of asymptomatic people spreading the virus unknowingly.

The rate of positive tests has been about 20%, but Casten said public health officials will want to see a positivity rate in the "low single digits" to know it is safe to reopen businesses and public life.


Casten is running for reelection in the Nov. 3 general election against Wheaton Republican Jeanne Ives to continue representing the 6th District, which makes an arc from Naperville through Elgin up to the Barrington area in parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

A spokeswoman for Ives declined to comment.

When the talk turned to masks -- specifically to where seniors can find the N95 masks that best protect the wearer from airborne virus -- Casten and Rowland again emphasized scarcity.

"This is much like the testing," Casten said. "We do not have as much protective equipment as we should."

Rowland said N95s are meant for health professionals who come in regular contact with people fighting the COVID-19 virus. For the rest of us, she said, "a cloth mask of any kind is fine."

"The point of the mask is mainly to protect other people from you," Rowland said. "Anytime you see someone else wearing a mask, you can silently thank them for choosing to protect you."

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