UIC to require weekly COVID-19 testing for on-campus students, staff and athletes

The saliva-based tests will be free to students, staff and faculty and should provide results within 24 hours.

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In this June 23, 2020 photo provided by UC Berkeley, a student provides saliva for an experimental COVID-19 coronavirus test for asymptomatic people. Scientists at the university are collecting samples from volunteers in hopes of finding asymptomatic people to stop them from unknowingly spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus. (Irene Yi/UC Berkeley via AP) ORG XMIT: NY304

A student provides saliva for a COVID-19 test. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, students and staff living on campus, as well as athletes, athletic staff and some people in the performing arts department, will have to be tested weekly.

AP

The University of Illinois at Chicago is implementing mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing for thousands of students and employees.

All students and staff living on campus; all athletes and athletic staff; and all performing arts students and staff will have to be tested weekly, starting Aug. 17, according to an announcement Wednesday. The saliva-based tests, which will be free for students, faculty and staff, should provide results within 24 hours. People with COVID-19 symptoms, however, aren’t eligible for the test and instead “should be referred to a healthcare provider for evaluation.”

These targeted groups make up about 2,000 people who will be tested on a weekly basis, said Sherri McGinnis Gonzalez, a university spokeswoman. The saliva samples will be analyzed in the school’s pathology lab on campus. People are required to have a negative test result before they attend on-campus events or classes.

About 1,700 students will live on campus this fall and have to receive regular testing, cut in half from the typical 3,400 students who normally live in the dorms, according to McGinnis Gonzalez.

Students living off campus who aren’t athletes or in performing arts are currently not being tested as a part of this program, McGinnis Gonzalez said, though the university plans to expand the program in coming weeks.

Many testing sites use a nasal swab to test for the virus, which involves inserting a thin swab deep into the nasal cavity. A pain-free saliva-based test analyzes collected spit for traces of the virus. Initial results in an ongoing study at the University of Chicago has found saliva-based tests to be on par with nasal swabs in terms of reliability.

“This is being used as a screening tool,” McGinnis Gonzalez said of the saliva-based test. “The intention is not to test people while they’re sick.”

Specific groups of students and staff will be assigned blocks of time to get tested on campus, repeating the process the following week, she added. The campus is initially planning on conducting about 500 tests daily.

The testing program at UIC is similar to that at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which recently announced that anyone participating in on-campus activities will have to be tested twice-weekly with the saliva-based test. It began Aug. 10 for staff and faculty and will kick in Aug. 16 for students, though anyone on campus is encouraged to be tested immediately.

UIC is planning on expanding its voluntary testing efforts to faculty, staff and students outside these groups starting Aug. 24.

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