UI COVID-19 costs exceed $300 million; $10 million in tests

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Photo Courtesy of WCIA

Sen. Dick Durbin speaks at a press conference at the University’s Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Durbin gathered alongside UI leaders to discuss COVID costs and federal funding.

By Ethan Simmons, News Editor

On Monday, University leaders revealed the costs of COVID-19 to the school so far: $300 million and counting, straight from the University’s operating budget.

Additionally, they revealed that the Emergency Use Authorization approval the saliva test supposedly received from the FDA back in August hasn’t yet been achieved.

Gathering at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University President Tim Killeen, Chancellor Robert Jones, Dr. Martin Burke and several other University representatives were joined by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin to contextualize the financial impacts of the virus and the school’s testing while asking for federal aid to expand the saliva tests.

Most of the costs are coming from canceled events and student refunds, Killeen said, but the total cost of testing continues to grow. According to Burke, leader of the University’s SHIELD team and co-creator of the saliva test, each test costs the University system around $20 to $25.

Through Monday, the University had conducted 423,206 tests, putting total testing costs in the range of $8.4 million to $10.5 million.

“We just talked to you about the millions of dollars that we’ve had to stand up to invest in this, but the most important thing to consider is in the middle of a pandemic, it’s in everyone’s best interest,” Chancellor Jones said.

As for the test’s FDA approval for emergency use, Burke said the guidelines have changed since August when the University declared the tests’ EUA approval.

“What we had said at the time, which was our understanding of the guidance at the time, is that we had completed a bridging study to an EUA, which at the time was exactly our understanding of the guidelines,” Burke said Monday. “What’s being sought now, which is a really important step forward, is a new EUA specifically for this test to be used for asymptomatic testing.”

Chancellor Jones divulged on the difference in his weekly responses to The Daily Illini.

“The University validated its laboratory-developed test under CLIA by successfully comparing its performance to an FDA Emergency Use Authorized test. This is different than FDA approval,” he said.

Burke said the University is working to drive the cost of testing down, especially with more than 30 universities that have communicated interest in adopting the saliva tests, along with community schools that have been promised testing help.

Sen. Durbin said he’s “never been prouder of the University of Illinois,” and called for Republicans to buy into a larger investment in testing.

“If we’re going to have another COVID relief bill, the proposal on our side of the aisle is for dramatic investment in further testing,” Durbin said.

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