Testing the test: Checking out the SHIELD Illinois COVID-19 Test

Jonathan Dumois, News Editor

COVID-19 testing has arrived at East, allowing students and staff to get tested for COVID-19 without leaving the school.

Thanks to federal funding provided by the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, the Illinois Department of Public Health now offers all school districts in the state access to get students and staff tested for COVID-19, and RPS205 has taken full advantage of the availability. 

The SHIELD test is a project of the University of Illinois under the name covidSHIELD, which is administered by SHIELD Illinois. The test is saliva-based, which means you have to spit into a tube to produce a sample. As such, the test has a quick turnaround time of about 24 hours. It is a rt-PCR test, a version of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, a more reliable test than rapid tests, which usually have a higher rate of false positive or negative results. 

RPS205 rolled out the tests on Oct. 25, which are available at East every Tuesday. They are also available at all middle and high schools in the district at least once a week throughout the rest of the school year between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. 

All unvaccinated staff are required to take the test at least once a week as an alternative to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, which was made mandatory by Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker before the school year started. The test is also available for students to take should they have COVID-19 symptoms, which the school district hopes will allow students to stay in school with minimal interruptions.

In addition, on Monday Nov. 11, RPS205 announced that students participating in after school activities, from clubs to sports, must show proof of vaccination or take a weekly test. RPS205 said that this measure was made “With a goal to keep our students healthy, minimize interruptions, and stop the spread of COVID-19.” The district has also said that the mandate might also expand in the near future, with RPS205’s Chief of Schools Morgan Gallagher telling WREX that the district only has enough supplies to test students in extracurriculars. 

In a statement provided to East Highlights, a spokesperson for SHIELD Illinois told us that “SHIELD Illinois has secured every piece of its supply chain in order to provide uninterrupted service throughout the 2021-22 academic year to schools across Illinois.”

To see what this test is all about, I decided to get tested myself. Now, to be clear, I didn’t have COVID symptoms at the time, nor do I have any now. I am also fully vaccinated.

The tests take place outside the athletic office next to the field house, where officials from SHIELD Illinois are on standby to administer tests. The process itself was relatively fast. They asked me for my date of birth and my name. After that, they confirmed that my parents gave consent to take the test in their database. They gave me a tube to spit in, complete with a funnel so that it could all go in easier. Once that was done, I put the cap on and put it onto a test tube holder. Hand sanitizer is available to sanitize your hands after the test is done. I would estimate that it took five minutes, or it should have, if I never struggled with the funnel and asked questions to the officials administering the test. I guess I was there for 10 minutes.

The officials from SHIELD Illinois told me that after school, the samples would be taken to a lab for processing, which is done at the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine’s Rockford campus, according to a press release by RPS 205 and the Q&A section of SHIELD Illinois’ website. 

The test looks for the RNA from the SARS-COV-2 virus, the same virus that causes COVID-19, but bypasses the RNA extraction process that is used by other COVID-19 tests. This, SHIELD Illinois says, “reduces the cost and processing time of the test.” SHIELD Illinois also says that the test can also detect the many variants of COVID-19, including the Delta and Omicron variants. Once the test is processed, the results are made available to the school and your parent or legal guardian. As was stated earlier, results are processed in about 24 hours. 

I was told by the person administering the test that if I never hear back from the school within 24 hours after my test, I was negative. As such, I got no response, so I was negative.

I found the whole experience to be quite fascinating and fast. The people administering the test were all friendly, and guided me the whole way through. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.