PEORIA — The whole OSF HealthCare system, which includes 14 hospitals, has only about 300 to 400 coronavirus test kits, said the system's top official for this part of the area.

"The entire country is limited by the number of tests available because it’s a new virus,” said Dr. Michael Cruz chief executive officer for the central region. “So in a short period of time creating 20 or 30 or 40 million test kits is a really hard task... So if we are not careful about how we do that test, we can burn through that. We can do that in one day.”

That revelation came out during a visit by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to the OSF HealthCare’s Digital Pandemic Response Center on Wednesday morning.

Hospital officials showed off their call center, which is set up in the auditorium at Jump Simulation Center. Inside, newly trained nurses were taking calls.

“We trained two auditoriums full of people over the weekend,” said Barb Carter, OSF HealthCare Innovation Marketing and Communications director. “We launched on the 16th.”

In just the last couple weeks OSF has launched a handful of programs to help central Illinois residents digitally navigate the coronavirus pandemic. Clare, a chatbot launched late in 2019, was updated to provide screening and education on COVID-19. People can access Clare at osfhealthcare.org. She asks relevant questions, and if necessary, directs patients to a triage line staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People with concerns can also call the helpline directly, (833) OSF-KNOW. In addition to the chatbot, OSF HealthCare also created a free text messaging tool with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Public Health. To subscribe, send a text to 67634.

Also during the visit, the Moline Democrat was able to watch a training session for OSF’s new pandemic health care worker program.

“It’s for people who are quarantined and the elderly,” said Dr. John Vozenilek, chief medical officer of OSF HealthCare Innovation and Digital Health. Volunteers were learning how to drop off electronic devices to help patients communicate with medical professionals while they are sick. Volunteers were being shown how to distribute the care packages while maintaining safe social distancing.

The congresswoman praised the efforts of the hospital system and then addressed Congress' efforts to manage the pandemic which has killed thousands worldwide.

“First of all we want to make sure that people who are losing their jobs or cannot work right now don’t have to go bankrupt to pay their bills and support their families," she said. "Second of all, we want to make sure our families are fed, so we added some extra funding for a supplemental nutritional program.”

She also described difficulties being faced by medical communities in her district.

“The equipment that is needed by medical professionals, there is a shortage of that, and we have to address it,” Bustos said. There is also a shortage of tests, and tests are taking too long to come back."

The lack of testing has made it difficult to know how much the coronavirus has spread, said Cruz of OSF HealthCare..

“So imagine every hospital, not to mention public health care departments, don’t have that available, so as a result, we actually don’t have a really good idea of the prevalence of infection in the community.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.