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District 153 first district to begin SHIELD testing for COVID

District 153 set in motion a weekly testing of students against the COVID-19 disease.

Superintendent Scott McAlister said nearly all of the 700 students and staff at Willow, Churchill and James Hart Schools will be tested using the SHIELD test developed by the University of Illinois. Parents have the option of opting out of testing for their child.

The district was part of a pilot program this summer to help SHIELD administrators “try and work out some of the kinks with a limited number students and adults,” the superintendent told school board members Aug. 31. During the pilot program, fewer than 100 students and staff participated.

SHIELD testing is a saliva-based test being used by 1,200 elementary and high schools in Illinois. The test can detect COVID-19 and its variants in symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

The program is free to school districts. The Illinois Department of Public Health expanded access to the testing to all districts outside of Chicago. IDPH is using federal CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan monies to fund testing.

Schools will not be responsible for the collection or testing of the saliva. The program is administered by SHIELD staff.

McAlister said SHIELD staff “ran into some hiccups” getting the testing up and running the first day, Tuesday, Aug. 31, at James Hart School. Before the vial is left, its identifying marks are scanned into a computer. McAlister said only one computer was available, which caused a back-up of students. SHIELD staff plan to bring more equipment to improve the process.

McAlister gave special thanks to school nurses for their efforts in getting the program going. He said the staff from the SHIELD program “have been wonderful to work with” and he added: “What they’re doing is really remarkable. It’s a wonderful service.”

Homewood-Flossmoor High School is waiting for SHIELD representatives to tell them when testing can start. H-F plans to test its athletes, said Superintendent-elect Scott Wakeley. H-F staff will meet with representatives from SHIELD in a planning session Sept. 8.

District 161’s board of education approved SHIELD testing for all students for this school year. Parents can opt out of the weekly testing, although all students in extracurricular activities will be tested. Superintendent Dana Smith said testing will begin next week.

Information from the University Illinois explains that the COVID SHIELD test requires only a deposit of saliva instead of an intrusive nasal swab. School districts and IDPH will receive test results within 24 hours of samples reaching a SHIELD Illinois lab. The labs are CLIA certified, meaning they meet federal standards for quality and reliability established by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988. The labs are not profiting from COVID SHIELD tests.

According to information released by SHIELD Illinois Managing Director Ron Watkins,
Illinois 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.

Close contacts are only eligible for test-to-stay if both the close contact and infected individual were correctly and consistently wearing masks during the entire exposure period.

Districts 153, 161 and 233 all have mask mandates for all persons in their schools.

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