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Federal Saliva Test Approval Too Late For Use At ISU

University of Illinois

The federal government has issued emergency use authorization for a coronavirus saliva test developed by the University of Illinois for broader use around the state.

But Illinois State University testing head John Baur said Monday it's the middle of the semester and the university has decided not to change its protocols in midstream and put the test into campus practice. He said ISU might use the lab set up for that purpose for the fall semester, if needed.

"You know the big wild card is the variants. If any of the variants take hold, we may need to be testing substantially in the fall. I think it's a great option for that. The lab will still be operating, so we'd love to use it for our own population," said Baur.

Currently, Baur said the ISU lab processes quick tests for five Chicago-area school districts. He said that's enough to pay for lab staff on campus.

"I think it's worth the money and time to set up the lab. We are collecting samples at least from elsewhere in the state and we are able to help the testing capacity of the state," said Baur.

He said ISU is not out much money, noting the Shield Illinois program paid for the equipment. And the $6 million ISU trustees approved for tests will not be spent.

"There was a lot of prep time. Obviously, a lot of people did a lot of work around the university to get ready for this. ... I have to admit a little frustrating that we were not able to get going," said Baur.

Would the university move to set up the lab again knowing what it knows now?

"That's a million-dollar question. I think if we would have known in August that it wouldn't be ready till March, I think some different decisions would have been made. The benefit of hindsight is a good thing. I think we were making the best choices we could at the time, " said Baur.

Others are more optimistic.

Funding totaling $20 million through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and released by Gov. JB Pritzker will provide a million of the U of I tests across the state’s 12 public universities and 48 community colleges, under an agreement between the Illinois Department of Public Health and the U of I System.

“Today’s EUA (emergency use authorization) is a game changer in our efforts to combat COVID-19 across Illinois and the United States,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "When the pandemic struck, the University of Illinois answered the call—and this rapid, low-cost saliva-testing program could be the key to dramatically expanding our testing infrastructure. I’m proud to stand with the remarkable work of U of I’s scientists and researchers, and I’m thankful for their efforts to improve our public health.”

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.