U of I gets approval for rapid COVID-19 saliva test

(The Center Square) – A breakthrough in COVID-19 testing in Illinois could help slow the spread of the virus.

Officials from the University of Illinois said Wednesday the Food and Drug Administration approved the school’s saliva-based test.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the innovative test puts Illinois on the cutting edge of testing. The governor said the test is inexpensive (about $10), faster, and requires less raw materials than other testing methods.

The university developed SHIELD, a three-pronged “target, test, tell” system that incorporates testing with data reporting, modeling and a smartphone app. Results are available on the app in 3 to 6 hours.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen said that is key to reducing the spread of the virus.

“Allowing isolation early enough to limit the spread of the infection, and it also identifies and isolates people with asymptomatic cases who otherwise spread the virus unknowingly,” he said.

Dr. Martin Burke, a chemistry professor who helped design the test, said the university performed more than 50,000 tests on faculty, staff and students in July.

“Over the course of July, we saw a positivity rate of 1.5 percent progressively drop down to below 0.2 percent as we continue to execute this fast and frequent testing on our campus,” Burke said.

Burke said the university expects to test up to 20,000 people a day when the fall semester begins on Aug. 24.

University officials said the test could soon be used in other universities, schools and possibly nationwide. Illinois SHIELD is a unit within the U of I System offices.

COVID-19 cases have been increasing statewide. On Wednesday, Pritzker warned that further mitigation efforts – such as closing bars and restaurants – could be needed. The Metro East area is operating under stricter guidelines after surpassing an 8% testing positivity rate for 3 days in a row, and the region now stands at a 9.4% positivity rate.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 2,295 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Illinois, including 25 additional deaths. The new case numbers are the highest single-day total the state has seen since May in part because of the number of people tested.

Statewide, public health officials have reported a total of 211,889 cases, including 7,806 deaths, in Illinois. In the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported 50,299 specimens for a total of 3,489,571 tests statewide since the start of the pandemic.

The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a percent of the total tests from Aug. 12 to Aug. 18 was 4.4%.

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