U of Illinois expands saliva testing with grant from electric auto manufacturer

March 29, 2021

The University of Illinois System received a $500,000 donation from Rivian to support the recently opened SHIELD Illinois COVID-19 testing lab at Illinois State University (ISU), which is located within five miles of the electric automaker’s factory in Normal, IL, according to a news release from the University of Illinois.

The SHIELD Illinois lab is currently processing 5,000 tests a week from Rivian and the donation will be used to cover the cost of equipment and staff that helped launch the lab.

In addition, testing will begin soon for Rivian’s workforce in California through a separate agreement with Shield T3, a university-related organization deploying the saliva test outside of Illinois.

Rivian workers in the Palo Alto area will be tested at the Shield T3 lab at Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale, with a test load that will gradually increase from 150 to 1,000 tests per week.

The Normal lab, which opened January 11 at ISU’s Science Laboratory Building and is run by ISU, is among seven being operated by SHIELD Illinois to spread the U of I System’s saliva-based testing across the state.

The testing process is known officially as covidSHIELD. To date, the U of I System has administered more than 1.5 million tests at its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield.

Pioneered by a team of researchers in Urbana-Champaign, the covidSHIELD test requires only a deposit of saliva instead of an intrusive nasal swab. It takes minutes to collect the sample and provides results within 24 hours of the sample reaching a covidSHIELD lab. The test notifies individuals of the presence or absence of the genetic material contained in the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Both SHIELD Illinois and Shield T3 can offer the test at a fraction of the cost of many widely available tests. In a clinical study, the covidSHIELD test was shown to be highly accurate.

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