With plans for saliva-based testing held up at the federal level, Illinois State University will begin in-house rapid antigen testing in January.
The university’s board of trustees has approved use of the saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by the University of Illinois, called SHIELD, in October. However the program has yet to receive emergency use authorization from the Federal Food and Drug Administration, trustees reported at a virtual meeting Saturday morning.
For several months, ISU has been establishing a campus-based lab to oversee the saliva-based testing.
ISU Director of Media Relations Eric Jome said the university’s Student Health Services has spent the last week piloting the new antigen testing program that will be “a big part” of the university’s testing plan going forward.
Currently, the university offers PCR-based testing that takes between 3-5 days to produce a result. Antigen testing produces results in as little as 15 minutes. In the case of a positive result, students will be able to isolate sooner, and contact tracing can begin sooner, too, the board was told.
Students subject to random testing--those living in university housing, are enrolled in on-campus courses or work on campus--will receive the antigen tests when the spring semester begins in January.
Antigen testing also will be available for asymptomatic students, faculty and staff at the university’s walk-up testing locations.
But there’s still a need to continue offering PCR-based testing, Jome said.
With Saturday's approval from the board of trustees, Reditus Laboratories will continue to process PCR-based tests through June 30. The agreement covers up to 12,500 tests over the six-month spring semester. The university will only pay for tests processed, which would amount to a maximum of $1.25 million.
The university reports Reditus Laboratories processed nearly 25,000 PCR tests this fall, costing about $2.5 million to date.
Jome explained with the new, cheaper antigen tests in play this spring, the need for PCR tests will decrease.
PCR-based testing still will be used to test symptomatic students, asymptomatic students who test positive with an antigen test, and student-athletes needing regular testing under NCAA and conference guidelines, according to the agreement with Reditus.
If and when the University of Illinois receives emergency use authorization for its saliva-based test, and if technology issues are resolved, ISU will pivot from using the antigen test to the saliva-based test for asymptomatic individuals.
Search for next president
Also on Saturday, trustees authorized the university to enlist a third-party firm to help find ISU’s next president.
President Larry Dietz announced last month he plans to retire at the end of June 2021.
Trustees voted to extend Dietz’s contract until then, and offer a FY21 performance bonus up to $50,000 (the same amount offered under his FY20 contract). Under the agreement, the university also will reimburse Dietz for certain moving expenses after his contract is up.
Trustees said while the goal is to have the next president start July 1, Dietz has offered to help with the transition process if necessary.