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Hilda Ezeigbo checks the level of saliva in her vial Wednesday after using a funnel to fill it at a University of Illinois COVID-19 testing site at the Illini Union.

$225M pledged for expansion to middle, high schools

SPRINGFIELD — The state will invest $225 mil- lion to expand the University of Illinois’ SHIELD rapid saliva testing for COVID-19 to middle and high school students across the state at low cost or for free, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Wednesday.

The investment will expand on testing already available at public schools, universities and community colleges statewide, officials said.

The testing will be made available for free to middle and high schools in mostly low-income areas that have experienced high rates of COVID-19. Other schools will be charged $10 a test.

Samples will be collected at participating schools and parental consent will be needed for testing, according to the state.

Ben Taylor, spokesman for SHIELD Illinois, said the samples will be sent to a network of seven SHIELD labs across the state — in Springfield, Decatur, Bloomington-Normal, Rockford and three in the Chicago area — for results.

State funding for the expanded testing will go to the SHIELD program, he said.

There are already a handful of schools participating, Taylor said.

“For in-person learning to occur, we need to help make schools as safe as possible for students, teachers and staff,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “To help prevent an outbreak, it is important to identify cases of COVID-19 as quickly as possible. Having testing readily available in schools can make it easier for more students to be tested and cases identified quicker.”

UI System President Tim Killeen expressed gratitude to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state health agency for making “fast, accurate and affordable” testing available to students and teachers.

“This is an exciting and pivotal moment for the innovative test developed at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a welcome commitment from the state of Illinois that will make certain that thousands more of the state’s young people and those who educate them benefit from it,” Killeen said.

The UI and OSF HealthCare recently partnered in an effort to expand the UI’s tests in Champaign County in a program called SHIELD CU.

Through that program, OSF is currently doing weekly testing for students at Urbana High School, Champaign’s Stratton Academy of the Arts and Champaign County employees, along with family members of UI students, faculty and staff.

Taylor said schools in Champaign County would also be eligible to take advantage of the state-funded testing program.

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