As Loyola welcomes some students back to campus this semester, the university plans to offer free COVID-19 testing to thousands of students, faculty and staff by partnering with SHIELD Illinois to administer a saliva-based test at its three Illinois campuses.
About 12,600 people within the Loyola community signed up with SHIELD Illinois for weekly testing, which means they’ll have access to campus buildings as Loyola partially reopens. SHIELD Illinois is a testing and tracking program developed by the University of Illinois that provides universities such as Loyola with a saliva-based test and the infrastructure to implement a large-scale testing and tracking program, The Phoenix reported.
Joan Holden, director of the Wellness Center, which provides health services at Loyola, said in a Dec. 6 webinar the school decided to partner with SHIELD Illinois due to the test’s affordability, 24-hour turn-around time and accuracy. Other universities have also partnered with SHIELD Illinois, which is launching seven labs across the state, each with the capacity of running at least 10,000 tests per day, according to SHIELD Illinois spokesperson Ben Taylor.
During the fall semester when the university was operating almost entirely online, Loyola’s testing centers used different tests that only served people experiencing symptoms and typically accommodated less than 100 people per day, according to the university’s coronavirus dashboard.
This semester, the Wellness Center plans to test 500 people a day through its surveillance testing program as Loyola invites 1,100 students to live on campus and offers limited in-person classes. There are also 34 resident assistants (RA) and five resident directors living on campus to support these students, Residence Life Director Deb Schmidt-Rogers said.
Surveillance testing is when asymptomatic community members are tested regularly so COVID-19 cases are rapidly identified and isolated rather than going undetected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This allows communities to better monitor outbreaks and respond more quickly to infection to avoid its spread, according to Loyola’s website.
Anyone who plans to spend time at any of Loyola’s campuses is required to sign up for surveillance testing, but the frequency of the tests depends on how often the person plans to visit campus, according to Loyola’s website. People can sign up at any of the testing sites to be a part of the surveillance testing program at any point during the semester, Student Complex Director Dawn Collins said.
For those who plan to spend two or more days a week on Loyola’s campus, testing is required twice a week, according to Loyola’s website. For those who plan to visit campus once weekly, testing is required only one time a week. Anyone who visits campus intermittently will be tested upon arrival and allowed into campus. If the test comes back positive after the person has been allowed on campus, contact tracing will take place, according to Loyola’s website. Test results will be available online in each person’s MyShield patient portal.
The Loyola community can schedule testing appointments online using the MyShield patient portal. If someone arrives at a testing center without scheduling an appointment, they’ll be asked to step aside and log into the portal to schedule one, according to Loyola’s website.
When attending a testing appointment, Loyola’s website recommends everyone bring a Loyola ID, wear a mask or face covering and maintain a distance of at least six feet from others. People shouldn’t eat, drink, brush their teeth, use mouthwash, chew gum or use tobacco for at least one hour before submitting a saliva sample at the test site.
On Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, surveillance testing will take place in Room 244 in the Damen Student Center and in the Mundelein Auditorium. Surveillance testing at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus will be in Room 160 in Maguire Hall. At Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, surveillance testing is located in the faculty dining room in the Cuneo Center.
The Wellness Center will also offer separate antigen and PCR tests to students showing symptoms in Loyola’s Granada Center, Holden said. These tests will be available to anyone in the Loyola community, regardless of whether they’ve signed up for surveillance testing through SHIELD Illinois.
If someone doesn’t follow the testing protocol, they’ll lose building access privileges until they receive a negative result from a Loyola test, according to Loyola’s website. Those who live on campus will always have access to their assigned residence. Repeated failure to comply will also be considered a violation of Loyola’s Community Standards and will result in a referral for disciplinary measures.
Holden confirmed Loyola’s contract with SHIELD Illinois says the school will pay $20 per test for a minimum of 5,000 tests this semester. Taylor said SHIELD Illinois expects Loyola to perform 10,000 tests each week during January as testing ramps up, then 20,000 tests per week during the remainder of the spring semester.
Although there’s a high demand among other universities for tests like these, Holden said there isn’t concern about Loyola having adequate access to tests because all the lab requires for a test is a person’s spit sample.
“We anticipate being able to meet our partners’ testing needs through our lab network,” Taylor confirmed.
SHIELD Illinois’ test still hasn’t received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, but that hasn’t affected Loyola’s rollout of the testing system, Holden said. It only means the lab must take additional steps when processing people’s spit samples.
Taylor said these extra steps are part of a process called “surveillance mode” and will be in place until the FDA authorizes the test. In this expanded process, universities send the spit samples to the lab without identification, receive the results, then match the results with the identities. Also due to the lack of authorization, positive test results are called “presumptive positive,” and people are instructed to seek out a second test to verify the result, Taylor said. Tests to confirm the results are available at the Wellness Center, Holden said.
Although Loyola hasn’t had experience with a testing program like this, the university modeled its testing plans based on what worked at other universities where students returned to campus, Holden said.
“We have every expectation that it will be successful, but I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way,” Holden said. “We expect that to happen and we’ll deal with them. The most important thing, of course, is to be able to bring some students back to campus, develop this rigorous, widespread, scalable testing program which we’ve done, and try to get our feet back on the ground.”