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NIU Starting Rapid Saliva COVID-19 Testing In January

Susan Stephens

Just a quick drool and you'll get results back in 24 hours. Northern Illinois University will begin using the SHIELD Illinois rapid COVID-19 tests in January. The saliva tests were developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Barrie Bode is the director of COVID-19 facilities at NIU. He says just remember not to eat, drink or use mouthwash within an hour of a saliva test.

“Even if maybe they were positive, that dilution effect from eating or drinking might not yield enough virus to bring it above the threshold for the way they do the test,” said Bode, who was chair of the Department of Biological Sciences before heading NIU’s COVID-19 team.

The SHIELD tests also cost a quarter of what NIU currently pays, which Bode said allows the school to scale up testing efforts.

“Engaging in the testing process itself is going to help us get this under control, while people are being vaccinated,” he said. "So, I think if we can run these effectively in parallel, it's going to make things a lot better in 2021 versus what we've seen play out in 2020.”

It’s fast and -- because there’s no invasive nasal swap -- doesn’t need trained medical personnel to administer.

Students who live in residence halls will have to test negative before they return to dorms. NIU students who live on campus will be tested every other week. Teachers, students and staff who participate in in-person classes will be tested every four weeks.

Bode said universities have not been the super-spreading environments some feared. He said that’s because of comprehensive testing and other safety protocols.

The tests are free for people at the university who are required to take them. NIU has had just over 600 positive cases this fall with a rolling positivity rate hovering around 1%.