After a short delay, COVID-19 testing in District 65 schools is set to begin, with a potential start date of Monday, Sept. 20, according to a written communication from Superintendent Devon Horton on Sept.11. 

An image from the Illinois Shield website shows how the saliva test will be administered.

Along with public schools throughout the State, District 65 will be provided free Shield Illinois COVID-19 testing through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), with funding from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan. District 65 is among the more than 1,200 K-12 schools registered for the weekly testing program, designed to enable early detection and prevent outbreaks. 

At the Sept. 13 Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting, Romy DeCristofaro, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services, said that testing schedules will vary by school location and principal recommendations, adding that Shield “can do about 100 individuals per hour and then we should get the results sent to us via a secure system within 24 hours. And those would be sent to our health office personnel who would then notify the parents or guardians if there is a positive result.” 

In his Sept. 11 communication to families, Dr. Horton stated that thanks to summer planning with Shield, District 65 is positioned to be one of the first schools ready to launch.

“While the District is 100% ready for testing to begin and has taken all of the necessary actions on our end, Shield still needs a bit more time to get testing schedules finalized and staff assigned,” Horton wrote. 

Pioneered by researchers at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, Shield’s saliva-based PCR test detects SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

According to the Shield website, “two of the three genes must be present to label a sample as ‘positive.’ This makes it extremely accurate in detecting positive and negative results.”

The Shield website says the test is credited with “keeping in-person classes open at the University of Illinois campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield since the Fall 2020 semester” with “the positivity rate in Champaign county below 1% since September 2020.”

According to DeCristofaro, all unvaccinated District 65 students will be prioritized for testing, unless parents submit an opt-out form. She added that Shield recommends testing vaccinated students only if the student is at high risk, had an exposure or was in the same space as someone who tested positive. 

Possible quarantine alternative for close contacts

An IDPH news release states that “under new state guidance, students and teachers identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case now have the option of a Test-to-Stay protocol as an alternative to quarantine. Close contacts must be tested on days 1, 3, 5, and 7 after exposure. As long as close contacts remain negative, they are not required to quarantine.” 

A caveat is that Test-to-Stay eligibility is only available if both the close contact and infected individual were consistently and correctly masked during the exposure period. Additionally, IDPH notes that schools that implement weekly testing will be prioritized for Test-to-Stay and outbreak testing if and when required.

DeCristofaro concluded her statement at the Sept. 13 meeting by saying that families should expect communication from building administrators when testing is ready to begin, with a final call to opt out of testing, if desired, and an opportunity to ask any further questions.

Bessie Mbadugha

Bessie N. A. Mbadugha took a hiatus from her previous life as a Chemistry professor to devote more time to her family, and became an active leader in numerous community initiatives in Hillsborough, North...