District 203 to provide free weekly COVID-19 testing

William Tong, Editor-in-Chief & Editorial Editor

District 203 will offer all students and staff free diagnostic COVID-19 screenings weekly, tentatively set to start the week of Sept. 27. 

SHIELD Illinois, an organization affiliated with the University of Illinois system, will process the tests, while the district has contracted a third party operator, HRSupportPros, to collect and deliver test samples to laboratory sites. 

Families can choose to opt out of testing anytime, and as of Sept. 21, about 38% of Central families are no longer planning to participate, Naperville Central Principal Bill Wiesbrook said. 

 Students will participate in testing during their communication arts classes on Mondays and Fridays in the gymnastics gym.  

“Our focus is to minimize [testing during] instructional time to the greatest degree possible,” said Dr. Patrick Nolten, Assistant Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability at District 203. “There are some limitations. You can’t do this within an hour of having eaten or drank anything.” 

Despite those parameters, Nolten says the testing can still go quickly and conveniently. 

“This operational partner, if set up properly, can do from about 70-100 kids an hour,” he said. 

SHIELD Illinois is also working on obtaining approval for non-observed testing, said Alex Quigley, assistant director of marketing for SHIELD Illinois, which would allow for tests students could take home to complete.

Testing itself first involves an identity match, where staff scan student identification and vials with adhered QR codes. Then, students will drool into their vials at least two milliliters of saliva. The whole process takes three to four minutes on average, Quigley said.

Unlike the surveillance testing provided by Safeguard Surveillance last school year, SHIELD Illinois uses reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction tests. 

“That is the gold standard for detecting the genetic parts of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID,” Quigley said. “If those viral particles are in the sample, they’re going to get found.” 

The tests have a specificity of 98.9% and a sensitivity of 96.8%, according to a University of Illinois study, which correlates to a 1.1% false positive rate and 3.2% false negative rate. 

The main purpose of this year’s screenings is also different. 

“Surveillance testing involves trying to get a sense of incidents across large samples of a population,” Nolten said. “We’re not trying to estimate based on sample through a larger population. We are specifically providing an opportunity for screening that’s elective.” 

And while final statistics on how many students have been opted out of the testing haven’t been pinpointed yet, the participation rate across the district is a solid majority, Nolten said. 

Students and families can expect to find their results on an online portal within 24 hours of testing, and will be notified in the case of a positive test, Quigley said. 

The district, on the other hand, along with the DuPage County Public Health Department and Illinois Department of Public Health, will receive information on positive, negative and inconclusive tests. 

Upon receiving a positive test, students or staff must quarantine according to guidelines set forth by the different public health departments, even if they are vaccinated or asymptomatic. 

For now, it is up to individual teachers to communicate with and provide instruction to students in quarantine, though the district has not required any minimum of synchronous or asynchronous learning time for them. 

 SHIELD Illinois has prevented “hundreds of outbreaks from happening already,” Quigley said. 

“We want to get to a point where we don’t feel this is needed,” he said. “But we’re not there.”