North Chicago — Rosalind Franklin University (RFU) has struck an agreement with SHIELD Illinois, a nonprofit unit of the University of Illinois System dedicated to providing free saliva-based COVID-19 testing for public schools across the state, to process tests that will cover school districts in northeastern Illinois.
The pioneering testing process — known officially as covidSHIELD and granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February — has drawn global interest since it was launched at the system’s three universities in 2020. To date, the U of I System has administered nearly three million tests at its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. SHIELD Illinois has administered more than 500,000 tests at universities, colleges, schools and companies across the state.
“The new SHIELD Illinois site at our Innovation and Research Park is an important addition to our university, community and region given the increased COVID-19 infection rate of unvaccinated populations,” said Dr. Ronald Kaplan, RFU executive vice president for research. “SHIELD’s activities fit well with our own Clinical Immunology Laboratory and our Center for Cancer Cell Biology, Immunology and Infection, and we look forward to potential synergies in other areas of viral research diagnostics.”
The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) covidSHIELD test can quickly detect the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants, including among people who do not have symptoms. Pioneered by a team of researchers at UIUC, the covidSHIELD test requires only a small deposit of saliva instead of an intrusive nasal swab. It takes only minutes to collect. The test detects three genes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, allowing it to identify pre- symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, as well as new virus variants.
As with all the SHIELD labs, the RFU facility is CLIA-certified, meaning it meets federal standards for quality and reliability established by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988, and will not profit from covidSHIELD tests. SHIELD Illinois’ lab network includes six facilities at locations around the state: Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network in Itasca; HSHS St. Mary’s in Decatur; Illinois State University in Normal; Loyola Medical Center in Maywood; SIU School of Medicine with Memorial Medical Center in Springfield; and UIC Health Sciences Campus-Rockford.
The new RFU site, to be established in early August in time for the start of the academic year, will provide testing for school districts in Lake and northern Cook counties.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the university’s Health Clinics have provided critical services to the community that include testing and vaccinations, and IRP labs have processed tests from both the clinics and other locations in the region.
According to SHIELD Illinois officials, the initial testing focus at the RFU site will be students from kindergarten through 12th grade, although the service will be available to other organizations. SHIELD Illinois testing is free to all of the state’s public schools outside of Chicago through an agreement with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Charter, private and parochial schools in Chicago receive free testing under an agreement with the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“We are thrilled to partner with RFU on this new lab location, which will expand our test processing capacity in Chicago and help us continue to deliver fast results to our partners,” SHIELD Illinois managing director Ron Watkins said. “It is critical for us to provide exceptional service to our partners at K-12 schools, community colleges, colleges and universities, as well as everyone who uses our community testing sites. This new lab in North Chicago will help us achieve that piece of our mission to serve the people of Illinois.”
About Rosalind Franklin University
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science is committed to serving the population through the interprofessional education of health and biomedical professionals and the discovery of knowledge dedicated to improving wellness. The university embodies the spirit of inquiry and excellence modeled by its namesake Dr. Rosalind Franklin, whose Photo 51 was crucial to solving the structure of DNA. Recognized for its research in areas including neuroscience, brain-related diseases, inherited disorders, diabetes, obesity, and gait and balance, RFU encompasses the Chicago Medical School, College of Health Professions, College of Pharmacy, School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine, and plans are moving forward for a College of Nursing. Learn more at rosalindfranklin.edu.
About SHIELD Illinois
A nonprofit unit of the University of Illinois System, SHIELD Illinois is dedicated to providing its innovative, saliva-based PCR COVID-19 testing across the state. The test requires only a small amount of saliva and provides results within 24 hours of samples reaching one of the seven SHIELD Illinois labs. For more information, visit www.shieldillinois.com.
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