Champaign-Urbana, Ill. (WCIA) —

“To make the tests available, very convenient, and very reliable, and at the very minimum costs,” John Vozenilek, Chief Medical Officer at OSF HealthCare, said.

That was the goal from a new program, and now some students in Champaign and Urbana will benefit from it. Covid vaccines are becoming more widely available, but health experts say it’s still important to get tested.

Now, the University of Illinois’ saliva-based test will be available to more people in Champaign-Urbana. OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois are teaming up to offer these saliva based tests to a couple of schools, and soon other businesses and organizations.

“That this is very, very happy news in a year where there hasn’t been a lot of bright spots,” U of I Chancellor Robert Jones said.

The University teamed up with OSF HealthCare to introduce Shield CU. It will bring saliva based tests to students at Urbana High School, Stratton Academy of the Arts in Champaign, and employees of Champaign County. Families of U of I staff members will also be able to get tested.

They plan to extend it in the future to other Champaign-Urbana schools, underserved communities, local governments and businesses.

“We’re so excited to now see it being deployed here to help Champaign County keep a lower positivity rate and to let more of our schools and businesses safely reopen and stay open,” Chancellor Jones said.

Participants in Shield CU will have access to an app, which will allow them to get their results, find testing centers, and more. This is something OSF has been using during the pandemic.

“This basically helps to connect back to what we’re considering in our first hospital without walls,” Michelle Conger, OSF HealthCare Chief Strategy Officer, said.

The saliva based tests cost around 10 dollars. They are paid for through a grant, so students and parents won’t have to pay.

“Our goal, of course, is to make this test available to every community member at the very lowest cost,” Vozenilek said.

The organizers are glad the community came together to help one another out.

“All of us have worked very closely and thoughtfully to make this county one of the safest places in the nation,” Chancellor Jones said.

Although, they say the pandemic is not over, and testing is crucial.

“Covid-19 is still around. It is not going to disappear by itself. In fact, Covid-19 is going to stay with us for a long time,” Doctor Awais Vaid, with Champaign Urbana Public Health Department, said.

The testing will be weekly. It begins next Friday. Health officials announced the positivity rate in Champaign County is less than one percent, but they continue to urge people to stay vigilant since we’re still fighting the virus.