Friday, September 4, 2020

COVID-19 and college: UIS on-campus students and faculty are getting tested weekly

The University of Illinois is aiming to have its saliva tests used throughout the nation and world. The so-called Shield tests provide rapid results and were developed by researchers in Urbana-Champaign at UIUC. "Direct saliva testing can address bottlenecks of time, cost and supplies," said Martin Burke in a release. "Our test also has unique features that enable fast and frequent testing on a large scale, and we are now working together with many partners to make our testing method broadly available as soon as possible." Burke is a chemistry professor at UIUC and helped develop the tests, which are under FDA emergency authorization.

The tests are being used at all three U of I campuses, including in Springfield. The aim at UIS is to test weekly those who learn, live and work on campus. Testing, combined with contact tracing, provides a picture of where outbreaks are occurring and how to mitigate further spread. Interim UIS chancellor Karen Whitney has repeatedly described the coming school year as a roller coaster, and it's already proven to be true.

"The lab is slammed in Urbana, and we've had bumps in the road," Whitney said during an Aug. 27 UIS virtual meeting about COVID-19.

"UIS is not closing unless the governor or the system head directs me to. The question gets into how will we operate," Whitney told Illinois Times. Students and faculty who become ill will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Pauses in on-campus activity and a temporary shift to online learning for all are included as potential mitigation efforts. Meanwhile, about 80% of students are learning purely online according to Whitney. Those who attend in-person classes must wear masks and keep a distance from others.

In-person learning is a privilege, said Whitney. There could be discipline for faculty and students who don't abide by rules. So far though, "I'm impressed with how conscientious people have been, how thoughtful they've been," Whitney said. "I'm very optimistic."

This story appeared in the Illinois Times on September 3, 2020.