coronavirus illinois

Coronavirus Saliva Screening Program Expands at Suburban Schools

What started as a pilot program in La Grange has quickly grown into an option to keep classroom doors open in other districts

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A quick coronavirus saliva screening process is turning out to be quite effective in Chicago's suburbs. The program started as a pilot in District 102 and has rapidly expanded.

Dr. Edward Campbell, a molecular biologist at Loyola University, started the program in La Grange in September. It has been so popular, he's quickly outgrown the makeshift lab he set up in the basement science center. To meet demand, he started a new company and opened another lab in Brookfield.

"It’s really the same procedure and workflow just at a slightly different scale," said Dr. Campbell, the CEO of Safe Guard Surveillance.

Three districts are now sending saliva samples to the lab in La Grange. Four districts are using the Brookfield lab, including New Trier Community High School District 203.

"We probably had about 2,000 samples that went to the lab last week, and it’ll be over 2,000 this week as well," said Supt. Paul Sally.

The screen is optional and free to students. The district is picking up the cost at $11 per test. Sally said 86% of students are currently participating in the screening program, and he expects that percentage to grow.

"We've identified a number of presumptive positive students," said Sally. "Those that have gotten PCR tests, they have all come back positive. So, it’s been an effective program."

The saliva screen is just that: a screening process, not a diagnostic test. Positive results are notified and encouraged to get a PCR coroanvirus test at a clinic. Dr. Campbell said the program has been extremely effective in identifying positive cases.

"Certainly there’s an added benefit to being able to surveil a student population and remove people who are infectious but asymptomatic, so that it reduces the risk of in school transmission," said Dr. Campbell.

Dr. Campbell's team, which now includes four full-time staff in Brookfield, has run tens of thousands of tests. He expects that number to skyrocket by the end of the year.

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