SHIELD Illinois spreads across Illinois, provides more COVID-19 testing sites

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Cameron Krasucki

A container filled with Covid test samples at the ARC on Feb. 1. The SHIELD saliva test will be implemented across Illinois public schools.

By Royal Shrestha, Staff Writer

The program SHIELD Illinois, which originated at the University in fall of 2020 to provide efficient saliva-based testing to students and faculty, has now expanded all across Illinois. 

SHIELD Illinois originally began as an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by rapid detection and isolation procedures including the Safer Illinois App, close contact notifications and isolation rooms on campus. 

Timothy L. Killeen, president of the University of Illinois System, had the vision to share this testing technology and its capabilities with the rest of the state, according to Ben Taylor, Marketing and Communications lead of SHIELD Illinois.

The Rockefeller Foundation gave a grant to the SHIELD Illinois team to pilot the same saliva-based testing in K-12 schools after seeing the success in testing during the fall of 2020 on campus. This pilot program, implemented during spring of 2021, gathered results and looked promising, according to Rebecca Lee Smith, scientific advisory committee member and lead epidemiologist on the SHIELD team. 

“During August of 2021, the Illinois Department of Public Health partnered with SHIELD Illinois to make the saliva-based testing free for all schools throughout the state with the exception of Chicago Public Schools because they receive separate government funding sources,” Taylor said. 

Currently, SHIELD Illinois provides the same testing setup and delivery method on campus to over 1,685 K-12 schools in Illinois, 57 universities and community colleges and at 25 community sites. 

“SHIELD testing seems to be very popular here,” said Douglas Toole, public health administrator for the Vermilion County Health Department. “We have a lot of returning folks. I also want to give credit to the SHIELD Illinois folks for being so accommodating to us. They provided us with a three-person team and the only thing they needed from us was a room and wifi.” 

In Vermilion County, SHIELD Illinois provides testing twice a week and one day a week at the local community college. SHIELD Illinois extended their hours of testing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and provided more personnel as a response to the increased testing and to be more accommodating with people’s work schedules. 

There is an issue with “testing deserts,” or lack of testing sites, in Illinois according to Toole who credits SHIELD Illinois with slowly assisting to resolve this issue. 

So far, SHIELD Illinois has conducted over 3,688,000 saliva tests with 670,000 tests conducted just in the last month of January. The rapid increase in testing comes from new testing locations on major campuses such as Depaul University and Northeastern Illinois University. 

With thousands of tests conducted each day, SHIELD Illinois has several different labs for processing tests, according to Smith. The state receives all of the results for data processing and often uses this data to determine which variants of COVID-19 are prevalent among the positive samples. 

“The SHIELD Illinois Testing Service has provided effective, convenient and trusted service to our campus and surrounding community,” said Gloria J. Gibson, president of Northeastern Illinois University, in an email. “We are very grateful to have the site on our campus.”

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