SHIELD ILLINOISSPRINGFIELD – The Senate Higher Education Committee held a hearing Monday on the progress of SHIELD Illinois, the system which administers University of Illinois’ state-of-the-art rapid COVID-19 test, which uses saliva rather than the common nasal swab and is intended to be made available to all of the state’s public universities.

"Everyone at the U of I involved in developing and utilizing the saliva test deserves our thanks," said Senator McGuire, Chair of the Higher Education Committee. "Our next task is to implement the test at our eight other public universities so they can resume in-person learning next semester."

According to Tim Killeen, president of the U of I System, the university is organizing a testing program and infrastructure to deploy the innovative test across the state. This plan includes a prototype lab on wheels that will allow testing to take place where it is needed most.

“SHIELD is launching a network of high-capacity labs across the state to process test samples and provide fast, accurate results,” Killeen said. “This groundbreaking technology has attracted global attention, and we are working to expand the reach across Illinois and beyond.”

Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign), a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, has been supportive of University of Illinois’ efforts since the project’s early stages.

“The University of Illinois has stepped up to help other higher education institutions make a safe, responsible return to in-person learning,” Bennett said. “The U of I has proven the success of the saliva test, keeping their positivity rate below 1% despite nationwide surges. Expanding this testing program is more vital than ever for our colleges and universities.”

The test has such high sensitivity and specificity that there are almost no false positives or false negatives, which is one of the driving factors that has led to the university’s low positivity rate.

The committee also received an update on the Discovery Partners Institute. The institute is a long-term U of I project directed at business and economic development in partnership with the university.

"DPI has the potential to penetrate job-starved Illinois communities and prepare residents for good-paying 21st century jobs," McGuire said. "I encouraged DPI's leaders to utilize our state's 48 community colleges to do so.”

According to DPI’s Executive Director Bill Jackson, the 500,000 square foot DPI facility is slated to open in 2025 in Chicago’s newest neighbor on the South Side. It will be home to more than 500 researchers and faculty members, training more than 10,000 people each year.

“Our workforce development plan is to focus on upskilling for in-demand jobs and help underserved and underrepresented groups step into high demand tech jobs,” Jackson said.

Senate committee discusses expansion U of I’s rapid COVID-19 testing