Senator Durbin visits university to talk COVID-19 testing

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) —The U of I has been in the national spotlight for weeks now thanks to their innovative saliva-based Coronavirus test.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin made his way to Champaign-Urbana today to join in on that conversation.

“If we’re going to have another COVID relief bill, the proposal on our side of the aisle is for dramatic investment in further testing,” said Democrat Senator Dick Durbin.

That’s what brought him to the U of I Monday morning for a press conference.

“Yes. We are continuing to work very hard toward achieving EUA [emergency use approval] status for the saliva-based test,” said Dr. Martin Burke from the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Back in August, the U of I said it did get that EUA from the FDA in hopes of expanding nationally, but guidelines changed, and the experts had to make adjustments.

“What we had said at the time, which was our understanding of the guidance at the time, is that we had completed a bridging study to an EUA, which at the time was exactly our understanding of the guidelines,” said Burke. “What’s being sought now, which is a really important step forward, is a new EUA specifically for this test to be used for asymptomatic testing.”

Burke explained each test costs about $20-25 dollars. It cost about $7 million to get the sites opened. Add another $10 million to run it for the fall semester. All of that comes from the university operating budget.

“It would be nice if we could recoup some of the cost,” said UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones. “We just talked to you about the millions of dollars that we’ve had to stand up to invest in this, but the most important thing to consider is in the middle of a pandemic, it’s in everyones best interest.”

Senator Durbin says that’s where the debate in Washington comes into play.

“We believe that testing is critical to re-opening campuses, schools, and the economy,” said Durbin. “The amount of money that was included in the earlier bill—the only bill from the other side of the aisle—was a fraction of what we have suggested.”

U of I experts who oversee saliva testing say there’s no exact timeline for when testing can officially expand nationally, but they hope it’s soon.

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