December 02, 2021
Coronavirus

Illinois Department of Public Health expands COVID-19 testing to elementary schools

Schools, state health departments will receive test results within 24 hours thanks to rapid saliva test

SPRINGFIELD – State health officials announced Wednesday that COVID-19 testing will expand to elementary schools across Illinois, with tests provided at no cost to low-income schools. Other schools will receive tests for $10 each.

The initiative is aimed at ensuring schools can more safely resume in-person learning for the upcoming school year, according to a news release from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The measure will allow schools to use a 24-hour rapid test that can assess whether the virus is present in a person and deliver results within a day.

State health officials said schools can choose to use the saliva-based covidSHIELD test developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The covidSHIELD test can detect the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants, including among people who do not have symptoms.

The test is noninvasive and collects a saliva sample from a participant, which is then tested for COVID-19.

“As we move ever closer to returning to how we lived pre-pandemic, it is critically important that we identify cases of COVID-19 as quickly as possible to help prevent outbreaks, which could ultimately lead to new surges,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Offering testing in schools, along with vaccination and masking, can help protect students, staff and teachers when in-person learning resumes.”

Testing is free for schools in districts that are predominantly low-income and have experienced high rates of COVID-19 infection, according to the release, and other schools will receive a discounted fee of $10 per test.

The classification of low-income school districts is determined by the Illinois State Board of Education’s evidence-based funding criteria.

COVID-19 tests for middle and high schools, as well as community colleges, already is available through the IDPH and local health departments.

Schools and the IDPH will receive test results within 24 hours of specimens reaching a SHIELD Illinois lab.

The testing will be provided through federal funds secured by IDPH from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan, according to the news release. The effort is part of the $225 million agreement between the University of Illinois System and the state aimed at proactively identifying asymptomatic individuals to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I am pleased to see the protective screen that our covidSHIELD test-and-trace system provides being extended now to elementary schools around Illinois. I am deeply thankful to the Illinois Department of Public Health for its vision in making this safe, effective and efficient system available to so many students and teachers,” University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen said. “Providing this kind of service to the state is at the heart of our land-grant mission.”

Schools looking for information on testing or to sign up for covidSHIELD testing can email Beth Heller at bheller@uillinois.edu.