FDA issues authorization to expand saliva-based tests used at University of Illinois


URBANA, Ill. (WGN)  The University of Illinois system received emergency use authorization from the FDA to expand the use of covidSHIELD, the saliva-based COVID-19 test that has been used on the university’s campuses, utilizing widespread testing and rapid results.

The test is 96 percent accurate, doesn’t have false positives and doesn’t require an uncomfortable, invasive nose swab. Instead, it uses salvia to test for the presence of COVID-19, and the results are available within 24 hours, sometimes less.

“We can actually identify the virus anywhere from that second to that fourth day,” said Robin Watkins, managing director for Shield Illinois. “So we’re able to catch folks in the pre-carrier, pre-symptomatic stage, which allows us to quickly isolate and mitigate the virus before they can get others sick.”

Watkins said the test doesn’t require a healthcare professional to administer and it’s much cheaper than the current PCR tests, which averages between $90 to $100.

The university says its salvia test costs between $20 and $30. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus developed the test in 2020 and put it use in the fall as it welcomed students back.

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“From the time after the student shows up and the campus was able to quickly identify, isolate and mitigate the virus, we have been able to hold it under 1 percent the entire time,” Watkins said.

It has also kept the positivity rate in the surrounding community low as well.

“That combination of the easy to collect, the high accuracy test, the really fast reporting … is going to the local public health, as well as the individual immediately right out of the lab,” Watkins said. “You put that all together and it’s really that great package that makes it such an incredible test. And, as you said, a game-changer.”

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced Monday he would dedicate $20 million in CARES Act funding to provide one million tests to Illinois’ other public universities under the Food and Drug Administration authorization.

The $20 million from the federal CARES Act will provide a million tests across the state’s 12 public universities and 48 community colleges, under an agreement between the Illinois Department of Public Health and the University of Illinois system.

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