COVID testing rolls out at schools

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Pictured is a sample saliva collector used in the SHIELD test for COVID at local schools.

With Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order mandating school personnel be fully vaccinated or submit weekly test results going into effect Monday, the Regional Office of Education has begun introducing SHIELD testing in Monroe and Randolph County schools. 

Pioneered by researchers at the University of Illinois, more than 1,200 K-12 schools across the state have signed up to use the SHIELD saliva test for the 2021-22 academic year.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recently expanded access to free SHIELD testing to all public schools statewide outside of Chicago, which had earlier received its own federal funding. 

On Friday, mere days before the mandate took effect, Illinois State Board of Education issued emergency rules pertaining to the order. Kelton Davis, Regional Superintendent of Schools for Monroe and Randolph counties, said schools under his purview must follow the rules. 

Davis said the rules specified school personnel who are fully vaccinated must provide their employer with documentation of this before Friday, and those who are not fully vaccinated must submit test results before the end of the school week. “After Friday, districts are going to have to make a decision on how to address staff who have refused,” Davis said. 

The rules specify school personnel who do not comply with the executive order can be prohibited from school premises. 

Now, unvaccinated school personnel can meet their testing requirement by visiting SHIELD testing sites the ROE has set up within local schools. This testing includes spitting in a cup. Davis said, at most, results can take up to 24 hours. 

“We are running clinics before school and after school at multiple locations throughout the two counties on different days, and a staff person can go to any of those to get their test,” Davis explained. 

He said both Waterloo and Columbia school districts have started testing personnel in select school buildings this week. In fact, the Waterloo School District piloted SHIELD testing on Friday. 

Some school employees expressed concern with how this testing was conducted, as those who needed to test were tested amongst co-workers. A common fear was that this set-up would make school personnel aware of each other’s vaccination status. 

“Privacy is extremely important here, but we are not capable of having private patient rooms. This is a saliva test done en masse,” Davis responded. “I will say this: I’ve had people who are vaccinated do the saliva tests because they wanted just to be sure that they were (not sick). So, it is not necessarily an indicator (of vaccination status) – only the district knows that information for certain.” 

While the SHIELD test in schools is now an option, personnel may submit records of weekly tests from other local clinics – such as drive-thru testing options from Walgreens, CVS and more, to satisfy the requirement. 

“Essentially, you can’t self-administer the test,” Davis said, warning that over-the-counter, at-home tests do not meet the requirement. 

As discussed at previous school board meetings, the SHIELD testing offered by the ROE will eventually be available to students. Davis said when districts begin offering this depends on when his office has fully trained workers, and each district is on its own timetable. 

Some have already started offering testing to students. 

He explained there are two options for student testing – both of which are on a voluntary basis.

“We have the ability to test a child weekly at the discretion of the parent. That is essentially a preventative measure for asymptomatic students spreading the virus,” Davis said. “The idea is (if) you test people weekly, somebody who would be asymptomatic and spreading (COVID) would (be) discovered sooner than later.” 

The second will help with the test-to-stay protocol. 

“The one parents seem to be the most interested in is when a child is a close contact, instead of being quarantined or excluded from school, they can stay in school (if they have) continuing negative tests on day one, three, five and seven,” Davis said of test-to-stay. 

Because districts have been rolling out SHIELD testing at different paces, it is important to contact each individual district for the most up-to-date information on their current testing offerings. 

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