The University of Illinois System received a $500,000 donation from Rivian to support the recently opened SHIELD Illinois COVID-19 testing lab at Illinois State University (ISU), which is located within five miles of the electric automaker’s factory in Normal.
The SHIELD Illinois lab is currently processing 5,000 tests a week from Rivian and the donation will be used to cover the cost of equipment and staff that helped launch the lab.
“The proximity of the Normal lab to our facility means the turnaround time for our workers’ COVID-19 test results has dropped from 36 to 24 hours,” said Jessica Siron, director of environmental, health and safety at Rivian. “This gives us the ability to respond faster to a positive test result and trace it, which allows us to stay on schedule safely. Rivian would like to extend its deepest thanks to both universities and their Boards of Trustees for standing up these efforts.”
The Normal lab, which opened Jan. 11 at ISU’s Science Laboratory Building and is run by ISU, is among seven being operated by SHIELD Illinois to spread the U of I System’s pioneering saliva-based testing across the state.
“We want to help reopen Illinois schools and businesses safely; that’s our entire purpose,” said Ron Watkins, managing director of SHIELD Illinois, a unit created by the U of I System to share testing throughout the state. “Illinois State University is an example of a lab partner who stepped up to make its community safer. We are grateful for ISU’s partnership and diligence, and the work of ISU’s COVID-19 testing coordinator John Baur for guiding their efforts.”
In addition, testing will begin soon for Rivian’s workforce in California through a separate agreement with Shield T3, a university-related organization deploying the saliva test outside of Illinois.
Rivian workers in the Palo Alto area will be testing at the Shield T3 lab at Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale, with a test load that will gradually increase from 150 to 1,000 tests per week.
"The university's agility and foresight allows us to serve Rivian, one of Illinois' most advanced and important companies, wherever it needs us," said Bill Jackson, who leads Shield T3. "A primary goal of Shield T3 is to get workers back to work safely. Such testing will be critical to the recovery of our manufacturing sector for months to come."
U of I System President Tim Killeen said the agreement with Rivian and the system’s efforts to share the homegrown testing protocol reflect its land-grant mission to serve the public good.
“It is a role we have filled with distinction during the COVID-19 crisis, and this partnership with and generous donation from Rivian shows how our university and corporate community are interdependent, and can rely on each other in crisis,” Killeen said.
The pioneering testing process, known officially as covidSHIELD, has drawn global interest since it was launched at the system’s three universities in 2020. To date, the U of I System has administered more than 1.5 million tests at its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.
Pioneered by a team of researchers in Urbana-Champaign, the covidSHIELD test requires only a deposit of saliva instead of an intrusive nasal swab. It takes minutes to collect the sample and provides results within 24 hours of the sample reaching a covidSHIELD lab. The test notifies individuals of the presence or absence of the genetic material contained in the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Both SHIELD Illinois and Shield T3 can offer the test at a fraction of the cost of many widely available tests. In a clinical study, the covidSHIELD test was shown to be highly accurate.
Organizations inside Illinois who are interested in using the SHIELD saliva test should visit uillinois.edu/shield or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested organizations outside of Illinois should contact Shield T3 at shieldt3.com or email email@example.com.