SHIELD Illinois provides free COVID-19 PCR tests in Evanston


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

SHIELD is a testing program run by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the University of Illinois.

Lily Carey, Reporter

New community testing centers are beginning to open in Illinois through a program known as SHIELD Illinois. 

Through a partnership between the Illinois Department of Public Health and the University of Illinois, SHIELD aims to bring their covidSHIELD tests to residents across the state. SHIELD provides free saliva-based PCR tests to all K-12 schools outside of Chicago, and to non-public K-12 schools throughout the state. The program also offers testing to a wide range of organizations such as community colleges, businesses and government agencies. 

SHIELD has more than 20 community testing centers across the state that are open to the public by appointment. Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has also partnered with SHIELD, and offers weekly covidSHIELD tests to all K-12 students. 

For Evanston residents, the nearest community testing sites are at the Dirksen US Courthouse in The Loop, DePaul University’s Loop campus and Northeastern Illinois University.

“So many people are hearing news stories about how difficult it is to find testing,” said Thomas Bruton, clerk of court at the Dirksen Courthouse. “To have this location be available to everyone in the public — that’s what’s so important to us.”

The program’s covidSHIELD tests, created by scientists at the University of Illinois, are saliva-based PCR tests. They are also entirely non-invasive, meaning they do not require a healthcare professional to be present to administer them. 

Ben Taylor, the marketing and communication lead for SHIELD, said PCR tests have a major advantage over other types of tests. While the typical at-home rapid tests only detect proteins on the COVID-19 virus, the PCR tests detect the genetic material of the virus itself, which is what makes PCR testing more reliable. 

“That’s really been the key the whole way through,” Taylor said. “The PCR test can catch (the virus) earlier in its lifecycle.”

As the test is saliva-based, participants cannot eat or drink within an hour of being tested. Results typically come back within 24 hours. 

Taylor emphasized SHIELD’s systems are prepared for any future waves of the pandemic. 

“We’ve been kind of stress testing our systems over the last few months to be ready for any sort of outbreak situations,” Taylor said. “Our labs are doing an unbelievable job.”

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Twitter: @lilylcarey

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