CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In 2020, the U.S. was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of college students were left wondering when they’d be able to resume in-person instruction.
Researchers from various disciplines across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus decided to create a fast and inexpensive coronavirus test to ensure that U. of I. students, faculty and staff could remain safe and healthy during the pandemic. That journey and the events of the 2020-21 school year are detailed in “The New Normal,” a 30-minute documentary premiering May 23 at 1:30 p.m. CST/ 2:30 p.m. EST on the Big Ten Network. It will air immediately before Illinois takes on Indiana in game two of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.
“Multidisciplinary approaches to solving a complex issue are part of our DNA,” said Chancellor Robert Jones. “That really did play out in the way that we created the COVID-19 saliva-based test.”
Early in the pandemic, U. of I. faculty members briefed Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker with an estimate of how quickly the pandemic would overtake the state. Because of their advice, Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order on March 20, 2020.
Meanwhile, the university assembled a small team of experts to develop a test that could be administered to everyone on campus, with the goal of replacing the invasive nasal swab. Within six weeks, the team delivered a saliva-based test that delivered results within hours, not days. A mobile app allowed students to quickly show their testing status, with a negative test result giving them access to academic buildings.
After its initial launch and emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the new test, named SHIELD, was available to be distributed to schools, businesses and communities across the U.S. and internationally.
Rako Science, located in Auckland, New Zealand, adopted the SHIELD test at numerous sites across the country.
“The University of Illinois is just this incredible scientific juggernaut,” said Dr. Stephen Grice, the Rako Science director. “(This test) touched every aspect of New Zealand society.”
“The New Normal” was produced by Kaitlin Southworth and Adam Rahn from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Office of Strategic Communication and Marketing and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.