CHAMPAIGN — A physician who wants to offer drive-thru coronavirus testing for the public is searching for a new location after his plans to hold it Wednesday at a Champaign church were scuttled.

“We will be looking,” said Dr. Tom Pliura, a LeRoy-based doctor and lawyer who owns CampusTown Urgent Care in Champaign.

Pliura had planned to begin a daily drive-thru Wednesday morning at First Christian Church in  Champaign, making thousands of COVID-19 tests available to the public — regardless of whether people have symptoms of the disease or not.

“After further conversation with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and medical officials, we have been advised to postpone this partnership,” church leaders announced Wednesday.

Without a new location lined up as of later Wednesday, Pliura said there wouldn’t be a way for him to start local drive-thru testing today.

Pliura blamed the health district for the church’s decision to withdraw as the host site, but the Rev. Jeff Sutton said it was First Christian that contacted the health district asking for guidance.

“We reached out to C-UPHD once we heard there were concerns,” he said.

Health district Administrator Julie Pryde said she spoke to Pliura later Wednesday and he told her he would follow the priorities set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at a future COVID-19 testing drive-thru.

Pliura told The News-Gazette that testing people without symptoms isn’t contrary to CDC guidelines, and he’s not going to send away an asymptomatic person who wants to be tested.

“If I have the capacity to test, I’m going to test them,” he said. “That’s not contrary to CDC guidelines. It means they’re last priority.”

CDC guidelines call for hospital patients and health care workers with symptoms to have top priority for testing.

Those with second priority include people 65 or older with symptoms, those in a nursing home with symptoms, those with symptoms and underlying health conditions and first responders with symptoms.

Those with third priority for testing are critical infrastructure workers with symptoms, others who have symptoms but don’t fit into any of the categories listed above, health care facility workers, first responders and people with mild symptoms living in communities where there are high volumes of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Considered a “non-priority” for testing are people without symptoms, according to the CDC.

Big turnout at church

Pryde said what she advised First Christian Church was to wait until several questions about the drive-thru testing Pliura planned could be answered.

Local health providers have been providing testing under state and federal guidelines, and testing the public outside those guidelines “is a waste of resources,” Pryde said.

“To my knowledge, everyone in the entire state is following the guidance,” she said.

Pliura said he was irritated at what became of his plans, and he called the governor’s office for guidance about how to proceed.

Ramping up for the first day of testing was a huge undertaking, he said. He had 15 to 18 people lined up to work at the church parking lot Wednesday morning and had brought along 3,000 test kits from the 8,000 he has available.

Pliura said not everyone who has been infected and can spread COVID-19 will be symptomatic. And he believes testing will uncover a hot spot of coronavirus in the University of Illinois campus area resulting from those who traveled before bans were imposed and then returned.

Despite the controversy that quickly arose over his plans, Pliura said there were 50 to 75 cars in the church parking lot when he arrived at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday to begin setting up and more cars arriving even after the cancellation.

Pliura said he plans to send the tests he does to two private labs, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, for results.

Private lab policies

LabCorp began making the COVID-19 test available March 5 for ordering by doctors or other authorized health providers anywhere in the U.S., according to company spokesman Mike Geller.

“As such, LabCorp is accepting COVID-19 test orders and specimens submitted by physicians and authorized health care providers, facilities and clinics from anywhere in the U.S.,” he said. “LabCorp continues to add capacity to perform testing for patients who should be tested in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health authority guidelines. And we are aligned with the administration’s guidance and are actively encouraging all health care providers to follow the guidance to prioritize testing for patients who are hospitalized and being treated for suspected COVID-19.”

Geller also said patient bills for COVID-19 testing are being held “to ensure appropriate billing that supports our patients.”

“We expect that the cost of testing will be covered in full for patients with insurance, and that other funding or needs-based discounts will be available for uninsured or underinsured patients,” he said.

Quest Diagnostics couldn’t be reached Wednesday.

In a post on Quest’s website in response to a question about whether people can order COVID-19 tests for themselves, the company said:

“No. If you suspect you have COVID-19, contact your doctor or an authorized health care provider. If testing is right for you, your doctor will direct you where to get tested, which includes collecting your specimens, for example, nose or throat swab. Those respiratory specimens are then sent to labs like Quest to process the tests.”

dpressey@news-gazette.com