Illinois State University lost the federal testing equipment it was expecting because of a Trump administration initiative to bolster testing at nursing homes, officials said Wednesday.
ISU learned late last week that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) planned to reallocate (to another location) three testing machines and 5,000 reagent kits the university had ordered. ISU officials said that "significantly curtailed" on-campus testing capacity and was a factor in Tuesday's decision to shift to mostly online classes for the fall semester.
In response to questions from WGLT, an HHS spokesperson said the reallocation was part of an initiative announced last month to provide point-of-care (POC) testing at every U.S. nursing home.
"We are working with BD and Quidel to ensure the most vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes, have access to rapid POC testing. We do expect a number of other point-of-care tests to be entering the market over the next months. For more information, HHS recommends you reach out to the school for additional details," the HHS spokesperson told WGLT.
On-campus testing for symptomatic students already is available at Student Health Services, with results in 24 hours. That's being done in partnership with local hospitals.
ISU is still working with "external vendors to provide additional on-campus testing as well as surveillance testing for asymptomatic students," but details are not final, ISU President Larry Dietz said Tuesday. ISU said it’s likely “random surveillance testing for asymptomatic students" will be required for those living in residence halls and university apartments.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican, said he's in conversation with Dietz about finding a workaround. Davis said there are still questions around why the original plan fell through.
"We've got to get answers from HHS on whether or not that vendor actually had access to those test kits, or if they possibly overpromised too many people on what they had access to," Davis said.
If another vendor can be secured, Davis said he sees no reason why the university couldn't return to campus as planned. But he said airing on the side of caution was the right thing to do.
"I think it's pretty indicative of how serious ISU and President Dietz is on getting the college back to some sense of normalcy," Davis said. "I think it's a thing that they're concerned about making sure they have the testing capacity for the students that will be on campus."
Davis pointed to the University of Illinois as a model for campus COVID-19 testing. The U of I reports it has capacity to test up to 10,000 students, faculty, and staff per day — thanks in part the the university's development of a COVID-19 saliva test.
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