UI COVID-19 testing program continues offering saliva tests for Illinois public schools


Cameron Krasucki

A container is filled with PCR saliva COVID-19 tests at the ARC on Feb. 1, 2021. SHIELD announced that they will continue suppling the tests for public schools on June 14.

By Kylie Corral, Summer Managing Editor for Reporting

SHIELD Illinois, a COVID-19 testing program developed by the University, announced on June 14 that it will be providing COVID-19 saliva testing to all Illinois public schools for a second year in a row.

This last year, SHIELD was testing 258 school districts — almost 2,000 public schools, according to Beth Heller, the senior director of external relations for SHIELD Illinois.

In February 2021 SHIELD started working with grade schools and then eventually partnered with the state of Illinois to offer tests to all public schools, providing them with PCR testing.

“A lot of what the University focuses on is helping the rest of our state,” Heller said. “So they knew they had to help, and so they rolled out SHIELD Illinois, which is a nonprofit unit of the University of Illinois system. It was rolled out in order to help keep kids in school, keep businesses operating, keep our economy going and of course, save lives.” 

Heller said the University developed the SHIELD testing program as a bid to keep college students and staff in school.

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“So our goal really is to get results in under 24 hours, which we are currently and have been averaging about 16 hours for resulting time, and we had a very successful year,” Heller said. 

Fast results can offer anxiety relief to teachers, parents and students, Heller said, making them more comfortable to be in school and extracurricular activities, such as sports and band, which have been seen to be a main cause of COVID-19 spread.

“And so really, it’s there to stop the spread, keep people safe, relieve anxiety and help keep kids in school — help keep kids playing sports, help kids do theater and other things that are important to them, but also help keep the parents at work,” Heller said.

She said that even though things have been changing when it comes to COVID-19, it is significant that we are prepared for that change. COVID-19 is not going away, she said, adding that positivity rates often fluctuate.

For over 30 years, Kevin Suchinski has been the superintendent of Hillside School District 93, which serves the communities of Hillside, Berkeley, West Chester and a small portion of unincorporated Cook County.

“Hillside School District has been active in promoting and having families involved in this program in the sense that we have over 85% of our students participating in the program here at Hillside as well as the opportunity to do community testing,” he said.

Suchinski said that the testing program is essential to the safety of the community, as well as the safety of students.  

“We can never stop the spread,” Suchinski said. “We can only limit and minimize it, and I think it was essential for our families because there was a sense of (relief). The students have said to me it is like a sigh of relief.”

He said that even if there has been a lessening of COVID-19 regulations this year testing is significant for the community.

The tests that SHIELD Illinois provides for those in public schools also happen to be a less intrusive kind of test, allowing those testing to be more relaxed than if they were testing with a nasal swab, Suchinski said.

“So for us, we’re excited about the opportunity and we’re excited about the support by the Illinois Department of Public Health for continuing testing,” Suchinski said. “I think it’s another layer for us to continue to move forward and to continue to support our students.”


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