Once the novel coronavirus emptied college campuses across the world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) leapt into action to figure out how to bring students back safely in the fall. A new article in Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, details how UIUC’s efforts to establish a campus-wide COVID-19 screening program can impart valuable lessons to the rest of the world.

Researchers at UIUC began working on their COVID-19 testing and tracing program in early May, giving them only a few months to get it off the ground before students were expected back for the fall semester. The result is Shield, which aims to screen students, faculty and staff for SARS-CoV-2 and help prevent the spread of the virus, writes Special Correspondent Mark Peplow. Shield now processes over 10,000 saliva tests each day, with undergraduate students getting tested two or three times each week. The team at UIUC in charge of Shield, which includes chemists, epidemiologists, IT specialists and event planners, invested in new diagnostic technology, along with stringent public hygiene measures and contact tracing, to prevent outbreaks on campus and the broader community.

The Shield team decided to use saliva tests over the more common nasal swabs because they require fewer trained healthcare workers and simplified the logistics of testing, as well as being more comfortable for those being tested. The research team was given a blank check by the university to order materials and equipment to refine their testing strategy, and by early July, the program was up and running. UIUC also developed a mobile app to provide testing results, and the school collects data for a public dashboard. Because students need negative test results to access campus facilities, overall compliance has been good. As of late October, the UIUC case positivity rate declined to 0.47% with over 600,000 completed tests. UIUC’s success has led to the creation of a statewide Shield-Illinois, and governments are hoping to establish similar programs at an even larger scale.

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The article, «How one university built a COVID-19 screening system,» is freely available here.

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