The University of Illinois System today announced that it will begin providing its innovative saliva-based covidSHIELD test to select K-12 Chicago schools through funding from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The $20 million in funding will go to the system’s nonprofit SHIELD Illinois unit, which provides testing throughout the state.
The selected schools will be those located in high COVID Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI) communities, as designated by CDPH. The testing program, which will also be available to pre-kindergarten students at the schools, will be a screening program to proactively identify and isolate asymptomatic individuals with COVID-19.
The agreement gives schools the opportunity to use the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s (UIUC) innovative, saliva-based PCR COVID-19 test at no cost to the school. The testing program is funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the American Rescue Plan.
Private, parochial and charter schools in the city will receive the tests. Chicago Public Schools already have an existing COVID-19 testing program, which was developed with CDPH, and are receiving separate funding to expand and grow testing capacity.
It is expected that up to 30,000 tests will be administered weekly. The tests, collection and transportation of samples, and results will be covered under the agreement, which extends through the end of the calendar year.
“SHIELD Illinois is an example of our land-grant mission to help the state,” said Ron Watkins, managing director of SHIELD Illinois. “The covidSHIELD test will help schools provide safe, in-person learning for students, teachers and staff. I am thankful to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health for making sure that Chicago has access to federal funding to cover most or all of the test and collection costs so we can help identify and isolate this virus. We all want the kids in school and we want to take this step to normalcy.”
The U of I System has created two units to share the testing protocol: SHIELD Illinois and Shield T3, a university-related organization deploying the saliva test outside of Illinois. More than 120 schools have signed up to test with SHIELD Illinois, and the number is growing.
“The COVID pandemic has shown the University of Illinois System’s power in real time – how our world-class research and scholarship can address even the most historic challenges and then go to work to help steer our state through,” said Tim Killeen, president of the U of I System.
The pioneering testing process — known officially as covidSHIELD, and granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February — 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 nearly three million tests at its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.
The test detects three genes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing it to identify pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, as well as new virus variants.
Schools and CDPH will receive test results within 24 hours of samples reaching a SHIELD Illinois lab.
“This year, our university demonstrated how a sustained, comprehensive use of our SHIELD COVID-19 testing program could let us return to in-person classes, labs and activities while still protecting the health our students, staff, faculty and community,” said Urbana Chancellor Robert J. Jones. “We’re excited that this invention of our state’s land-grant university will now help K-12 students, teachers and staff do the same in schools and classrooms throughout Chicago.”
Samples from Chicago schools that use covidSHIELD will be processed in SHIELD Illinois’ Chicagoland labs that have been authorized to use the covidSHIELD process. The labs are CLIA-certified, meaning they meet federal standards for quality and reliability established by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988, and are not profiting off of covidSHIELD tests.
SHIELD Illinois’ lab network includes six labs at locations around the state: Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network in Itasca; HSHS St. Mary’s in Decatur; Illinois State University in Normal; Loyola Medical Center in Maywood; SIU School of Medicine with Memorial Medical Center in Springfield; and UIC Health Sciences Campus-Rockford.
Pioneered by a team of researchers at UIUC, the covidSHIELD test requires only a deposit of saliva instead https://www.shieldt3.com/of an intrusive nasal swab. It takes only minutes to collect.
In addition to the U of I System, the covidSHIELD testing process is currently in use at more than 125 universities, colleges, schools, companies, and government entities.
Organizations inside Illinois who are interested in using the SHIELD saliva test should email Beth Heller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested organizations outside of Illinois should contact Shield T3 at shieldt3.com or email email@example.com.