NIU to implement saliva-based COVID-19 testing


Patrick Murphy

A surveillance testing sign hangs on the entrance of the NIU Health Services building.

Ahyen Labanan, News Editor

DeKALB — NIU is conducting contractual negotiations to set up a lab with Northwestern Medicine to implement saliva-based COVID-19 testing as part of its surveillance testing plan, Barrie Bode, chair of the NIU biological sciences department said. The saliva-based testing is part of the University of Illinois System’s testing program.

The collection site for the saliva-based testing will be on campus, while samples will be sent to a CLIA-certified lab in a Northwestern Medicine facility, Bode said. 

Northwestern Medicine has been NIU’s health services partner since January 2019, according to a Jan. 14, 2019, Northern Star article

It’s easier for NIU to work with Northwestern for the lab rather than wait for NIU to create a CLIA-certified lab, Bode said. 

A CLIA-certified lab is a facility with specific regulations and quality standards for lab testing performed from human specimens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

Bode was appointed to coordinate the establishment of a CLIA-certified lab with Northwestern Medicine.

“We hope to have this lab up and running by the end of the year,” Bode said. 

The saliva-based COVID-19 test, which was developed at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is part of SHIELD Illinois, a surveillance testing program aiming to establish saliva testing throughout the state and country, according to the UIS website

Moreover, the saliva-based test is non-invasive in comparison to a nasal swab test, and it doesn’t require specialized personnel to administer or collect samples, Bode said. 

Test results from saliva-based testing have a high accuracy rate and the turnaround for results is between six and 12 hours, according to the UIS website. 

Potential wastewater testing 

NIU is also working on a project with the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District to potentially test wastewater from residence halls. 

The idea is that wastewater testing could detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and see if there are spikes in residence halls, Bode said. 

If there were to be a spike, testing resources could be focused on students who live in that area, Bode said. 

“We really hope that by doing these things, it’s gonna make the campus safer and allow us to catch potential transmissions before they happen,” Bode said. 

NIU’s current surveillance testing program 

NIU-funded surveillance testing began two weeks into the semester, according to an Aug. 27 Northern Star article

The nasal swab test at NIU is self-administered by the student and supervised by a medical professional. The turnaround time for results is between three to five days, according to the Protecting the Pack website. 

Chief of Staff to the President Matt Streb said surveillance testing has been going well, and the majority of students have been supportive and comply with testing. 

“We’ve had a very small number of issues,” Streb said. 

Since its implementation, NIU has administered 1,254 tests and 23 have been positive, according to the Campus-COVID-19 Dashboard