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Universities launch aggressive testing program before students return

Students mingle on the Quad of the University of Illinois college campus in Urbana-Champaign.

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ public universities are launching an aggressive COVID-19 testing and quarantining program this fall to keep students, faculty and staff safe when classes resume.

The large-scale testing effort will put Illinois’ public universities in the vanguard of schools that are working proactively to stop the spread of the virus on campus during the pandemic.

Paul Weinberger, director of federal regulations for the University of Illinois system, said the effort was spearheaded by scientists at Urbana who developed their own “in-house” COVID-19 testing system. The system has the capacity to handle tens of thousands of tests every day. The idea is to head off any outbreaks quickly by quarantining people who are exposed to the virus before they develop symptoms or further spread it.

“We need to have accurate and timely data,” Weinberger said.

Because the testing system was developed at U of I, the cost of the program was “relatively cheap,” Weinberger said. The designers hope it will more than pay for itself by containing the spread of the virus and allowing the schools to continue to educate 180,000 students as the pandemic continues.

Costs related to the pandemic have been staggering for the U of I system schools. Lost revenue, refunds, and other costs in the spring added up to $50 million dollars in losses by early April. By July, costs related to the pandemic alone had cost U of I system schools $234 million.

Congress has been working on a second COVID-19 emergency aid package for weeks now. On July 17, the presidents of the universities in the U of I system sent a letter to representatives in Congress asking for $47 billion in additional emergency funding for its universities and students. They asked for an additional $26 billion in funding for federal research agencies.

The U of I system schools are research powerhouses for the federal government. They receive half a billion dollars in federal research funding every year for research with federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.

The U of I universities include the University of Illinois, University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois at Springfield.

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