More than 1,200 K-12 schools across the state have signed up to use the SHIELD Illinois COVID-19 saliva test for the start of the 2021-22 academic year. More than 650,000 students in Illinois will now have access to the test, pioneered by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently expanded access to free SHIELD testing to all K-12 public schools statewide outside of Chicago, which had earlier received its own federal funding.
IDPH is utilizing funding from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan to fund testing in public schools. Funding for testing in non-public schools statewide comes from the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Midwest Expanded Testing Coordination Hub, which is run by Batelle, a non-profit technology development company.
“I am proud that as K-12 students across the state begin a new school year, our SHIELD test-and-trace system can provide so many a safe path back to the in-person instruction that is so important to a good, well-rounded education,” University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen said. “The covidSHIELD test has now been in use — and been effective — for a year at our universities. We are pleased to be able to extend that protection to many thousands of students through free testing provided by our partnership with IDPH and the state of Illinois.”
Through state funding, public and private schools can choose to use the saliva-based test developed at UIUC, which detects SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.
Frequent testing of unvaccinated staff and students as well as symptomatic individuals who have been vaccinated helps to ensure a safe return to in-person learning.
“From the beginning, SHIELD Illinois’ goal has been to help our state’s schools, businesses and government reopen safely,” said SHIELD Illinois Managing Director Ron Watkins. “We are incredibly grateful for all of our partners, and we look forward to providing reliable, fast testing to our school partners this fall to enable their return to safe, in-person learning.”
SHIELD Illinois recently surpassed the 500,000 mark in the number of covidSHIELD tests performed at schools, universities, colleges, community colleges and businesses, and processed in labs statewide. This widespread testing has made it possible to identify infected individuals so they can be isolated to prevent spread of the disease.
Under new state guidance, students and teachers identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case now have the option of a Test-to-Stay protocol as an alternative to quarantine. Close contacts must be tested on days 1, 3, 5, and 7 after exposure. As long as close contacts remain negative, they are not required to quarantine.
Close contacts are only eligible for Test-to-Stay if both the close contact and infected individual were correctly and consistently wearing masks during the entire exposure period.
IDPH encourages all schools to implement weekly testing of their unvaccinated students and staff. Schools that implement weekly testing will be prioritized for Test-to-Stay and outbreak testing when required.
The covidSHIELD test requires only a deposit of saliva instead of an intrusive nasal swab. School districts and IDPH will receive test results within 24 hours of samples reaching a SHIELD Illinois lab. The labs are CLIA certified, meaning they meet federal standards for quality and reliability established by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988. The labs are not profiting from covidSHIELD tests.
Schools looking for more information or to sign up for covidSHIELD testing should go here.