For the first time, Illinois health officials are beginning to utilize a new saliva-based coronavirus test developed at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus, and as a result the state was able to conduct more than 50,000 new COVID-19 tests over the last 24 hours.
“This development by the University of Illinois is truly going to have the effect of helping us (with) fast testing, fast results, isolating people faster and contact tracing,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “All of those things have an enormously positive effect.”
According to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the saliva tests, recently given a green light by the Food and Drug Administration under the administration’s emergency use authorization powers, were included in Wednesday’s testing totals for the first time, allowing the state to set a new record for coronavirus tests within a 24-hour period.
“Today’s news puts the University of Illinois and the entire state of Illinois on the cutting edge of testing innovation on a national level,” Ezike said. “And let me just say to (University of Illinois) President Dr. Tim Killeen, the state of Illinois looks forward to being your biggest customer.”
According to Ezike and other health officials, the saliva-based tests are a major breakthrough in coronavirus testing for multiple reasons, including their cheaper costs, faster results and relative ease of accessing the materials needed to conduct and screen the tests.
“Even among the very few saliva tests available globally, it’s one of the least expensive and potentially most effective now on the market,” Ezike said.
According to Dr. Killeen, the test is very inexpensive compared to other testing kits, with a cost of just $10 per kit.
Individuals who take the test can have test results sent directly to their phones with their test results, which will likely be available within just 24 hours instead of the several days that nose swab tests take to process.
The swab test is already being used at the university, with more than 10,000 faculty and staff members taking tests on Monday alone. That number, according to Killeen, accounted for 1.3% of the testing in the entire United States on Monday.
State officials are working to deploy the tests to more public universities across the state in coming weeks and months, and will work to make the testing available for students in K-12 schools and for residents of long-term care facilities as well.
According to Pritzker and other state officials, the tests will require several weeks to roll out to other entities, but the production process should be much faster than other more material-intensive tests, thereby helping to expedite that process.
Other schools and businesses have also begun to achieve good results with saliva-based tests, with one such test funded by the National Basketball Association gaining FDA emergency approval earlier this week. Yale University also has developed a saliva-test for COVID-19.