When the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign welcomed more than 35,000 students back to its Central Illinois campus in late August, it looked like it could be more than just another school reopening in the Covid-19 era. It was a real-world example of the sort of public health measures many experts long have been urging: frequent testing—even of people with no symptoms—combined with contact tracing and technology-enabled exposure notifications.
Researchers at the university, a science and technology powerhouse, designed a saliva test that would be easy to collect and process, to be taken twice a week. They developed an app that monitors results and can quickly notify close contacts of anyone testing positive. Those who test positive are instructed to quickly self-isolate. Masks are required, and large gatherings were put off-limits. Modeling developed in-house projected it would all work. With more than 255,000 tests performed, the school has done more than 5% of the state of Illinois’s total screenings so far and accounted for nearly 20% of them last week. Students, faculty, and staff at UIUC may be some of the most-tested people in the U.S.