Illinois middle and high schools could see an increase in COVID-19 testing following a multimillion dollar investment from the state, officials announced Wednesday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced a $235 million investment to expand covidSHIELD testing, which is a saliva-based test that quickly detects the virus in both symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals, at statewide middle and high schools.
“For in-person learning to occur, we need to help make schools as safe as possible for students, teachers, and staff,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “To help prevent an outbreak, it is important to identify cases of COVID-19 as quickly as possible. Having testing readily available in schools can make it easier for more students to be tested and cases identified quicker."
The quick testing strategy is meant to identify who has COVID early, so that more students can quarantine and prevent further spread, according to state officials.
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Rather than a nasal swap, the covidSHIELD test, which was developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, collects saliva and provides results typically within 12 to 24 hours. Officials said specimens will only be collected with parental consent at participating schools.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on expanded usage of Pfizer and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-old kids, clearing the way for pediatricians to start giving out the shots across the U.S. as early as Thursday.
The recommendation from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky comes hours after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices endorsed the change, which was adopted 14-0 with one person recusing themself. Two days earlier, the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer and BioNTech's request to allow their shot to be given to young teens on an emergency use basis. The final approval by Walensky was expected imminently.
President Joe Biden called it "one more giant step in our fight against the pandemic."
During Wednesday's meeting, CDC officials said there were no serious adverse events associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in 12- to 15- year olds out of more than 2,000 children in the companies' clinical trial. Most vaccine recipients, 91%, experienced side effects of some kind.
The most commonly reported side effects were pain at the injection site and in joints and muscles, tiredness, headache, chills and fever, Pfizer scientist Dr. John Perez told the panel. With the exception of pain at the injection site, more adolescents reported side effects after the second dose than after the first. Side effects usually resolved within one to two days, he said.