(The Center Square) – The SHIELD COVID-19 test, which has been used on University of Illinois campuses since last summer, is about to go statewide.
The Food and Drug Administration has given the saliva test emergency use authorization, a seal of approval that opens the door for broader distribution across Illinois.
The U of I saliva test has been praised for its simplicity. Participants fill a test tube with a small amount of saliva, while monitored by trained observers. The sample is then analyzed at a lab, with results available on a phone app in about 12 to 24 hours.
Over 1.5 million tests have been administered at campuses in Champaign-Urbana, Springfield and Chicago. U of I System President Timothy Killeen said the test was instrumental in getting students back on campus and remain there.
“It works because it lets us see where the virus is by looking at the whole iceberg and not just the tip,” Killeen said. “We test everybody regularly, fast and frequently.”
At its flagship campus, undergraduates were tested at least twice a week and in-person faculty and staff were also tested. The fast notifications are largely credited with aiding the university in isolating positive students before large outbreaks interrupted the semester.
About $20 million in CARES funding is slated to go toward one million tests at 12 public universities and 48 community colleges under an agreement between the Illinois Department of Public Health and the U of I system.
The million tests will be allocated based on a formula developed by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Each university has determined how it will handle COVID-9 testing for the spring semester.
Shield Illinois, the university organization behind the rollout, said it will sell the tests for $20 to public school districts and public universities, $25 to private universities, and $30 to companies.
“It is not just a university solution,” spokesman Ben Taylor said. “It’s really open to any organization or group who wants to provide a safe environment for their people.”