CHICAGO, Ill. (WCIA) — Calling it “the best news that we’ve had since this pandemic,” Gov. JB Pritzker said the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received “emergency use authorization” from the federal Food and Drug Administration for its saliva-based COVID-19 testing.

“This news puts the University of Illinois and the entire state of Illinois on the cutting edge of testing — of testing innovation as a national player,” Pritzker said. “And let me just say to President (Tim) Killeen, the state of Illinois looks forward to your being, to being your biggest customer.”

The FDA approval allows the university system to “turbo-charge” efforts to expand the testing beyond just the Urbana-Champaign campus, which could include national expansion, as well as expansion to schools of all types — higher education, secondary and primary schools, as well as public and private institutions — throughout the state.

“This is a critical new tool that we believe will let communities scale up their COVID-19 testing abilities rapidly in a way that is…affordable,” Chancellor Robert Jones said Wednesday.

he CLIA-certified lab at the U. of I. performed a bridging study to a recently approved FDA EUA, showing that the Illinois test performs at least as well as the recently approved saliva-testing protocol.

“Direct saliva testing can address bottlenecks of time, cost and supplies. Our test also has unique features that enable fast and frequent testing on a large scale, and we are now working together with many partners to make our testing method broadly available as soon as possible,” said Dr. Martin Burke.

Earlier this month, the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees created a new university-related organization as part of a broad effort to expand the reach of saliva-based testing pioneered by U of I researchers that supports widespread testing with rapid results to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Known as Shield T3, the new organization will make the technology available nationally and was established in response to inquiries from universities and institutions across the country. Interest surged after researchers in Urbana-Champaign unveiled the technology to promote safety when on-campus instruction resumes later this month. Since then, it has been expanded to the U of I System’s universities in Chicago and Springfield.

Along with the new university-related organization, the U of I System has already created a new internal unit that is working to make the tests available in Illinois. The unit, known as SHIELD Illinois, will continue building current testing capacity, and hopes to ultimately offer testing to institutions and entities across the state.

The UIUC campus has nearly 20 different testing centers with two lines apiece, each with the ability to collect 20,000 tests per day.