UI launches community-based ‘SHIELD CU’ COVID-19 testing program

By Alex Chang, Contributing Writer

In a massive step for combating COVID-19 in the Champaign-Urbana community, OSF HealthCare and the University has announced a new COVID-19 testing program, SHIELD CU. Under this program, the University is planning to roll out its saliva-based COVID-19 test to schools and eventually other places in the Champaign-Urbana area. 

“On the behalf of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, we are very excited about the SHIELD CU initiative,” said Awais Vaid, deputy public health administrator of CUPHD. 

Initial participants of the new program include teachers, students and staff of Urbana High School, Stratton Academy of the Arts and other employees in Champaign County.

The creation of SHIELD CU represents an unprecedented chance for the C-U community to have access to the convenience and speed of the saliva-based RT-PCR covidSHIELD test created by the University, said Chancellor Robert Jones. 

“We are excited to see the saliva-based test that we invented here at Illinois being used to help Champaign County,” Jones said. 

Rapid testing and centralized access to test data “was the secret sauce to the success of our fall semester,” according to Jones, and he hopes that this system will be a key part in the reopening of schools and a resumption of in-person schooling.

For current University staff and students, SHIELD CU will take a very familiar form. The tests will be tied to the Safer Illinois app and will utilize roughly the same testing pipeline as current University testing. 

Possible implementations discussed by the program include portable testing tents near schools, where “different grades and different times will be used to get the data to where it should go,” said Neal Cohen, director of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute.

The turnaround time for tests is expected to take roughly 12 hours, similar to current University testing, with potential delays creating a maximum of 48 hours. 

Testing is currently provided at no cost to Urbana High School and Stratton Academy of the Arts through a Rockefeller Foundation grant. 

“There are costs associated with the test,” said Dr. John Vozenelik, Chief Medical Officer of OSF HealthCare Innovation and Digital Health. “The use of reagents, the actual vials themselves, the operation of the equipment are all incorporated into a $10 basic cost per test.”

SHIELD CU currently has “plans to extend access to other Urbana-Champaign schools, underserved communities, local governments and businesses in the near future,” according to a press brief by OSF HealthCare. 

“You’ve heard from representatives of CUPHD, OSF and University of Illinois,” Cohen said. “But the partnership is broader than that. It is local governments, it is the school systems, it is businesses, it is ministries.” 

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