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Congratulations to the university scientists and researchers who developed the test. Let’s put it to use.

Officials at the University of Illinois have been ready for months to expand the use of their rapid, inexpensive COVID-19 test to institutions and employers beyond the UI System.

They finally got emergency-use authorization Monday from the Food and Drug Administration, something they thought they had last summer. That turned out to be a mistake, but Monday’s announcement is the real thing.

Most immediately, it expands the 99 percent accurate saliva test to all nine other public university campuses in the state and to 48 community colleges. Some $20 million in federal funds will help pay for as many as one million COVID-19 tests for college students in Illinois.

Beyond that, the UI’s COVID-19 SHIELD Illinois test also now can be deployed at K-12 schools, industrial settings and other institutions where it’s still important to get rapid response testing to protect large groups. The UI said it is selling the tests to school districts and public universities at $20 apiece and to companies at $30 apiece. Nasal swab tests done at other labs can cost up to $100.

While FDA approval of the saliva test would have been more welcome — and more valuable — months ago, when COVID-19 infections were at their peak, the testing process still has great utility. COVID-19-fighting vaccines still have not been widely distributed, and even when they are, it’s uncertain how long the shots are effective and whether they work against new variants.

The COVID-19 SHIELD Illinois test, developed entirely at the UI’s Urbana campus, will remain a valuable tool for saving lives and preventing widespread COVID-19 outbreaks. The test is another tool that may permit the university and other schools to return to some level of normalcy next fall.

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