La Grange school district uses voluntary saliva tests to help identify possible COVID cases

The saliva test, which is not FDA approved, is quick and cost effective

Michelle Gallardo Image
Monday, December 7, 2020
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La Grange District 102, in Chicago's west suburbs, is using voluntary saliva COVID tests to help identify possible coronavirus cases at school.

LA GRANGE, Ill. (WLS) -- More than three months into the fall semester, the routine has become a familiar one for the students at La Grange District 102.

Once a week, twice after holiday weekends, students will be tested for COVID-19 on their way out of class.

The process is quick, as they spit into small bar-coded vials, then hand over to the school nurse.

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Monday, the 7th and 8th graders at Park Junior High took their turn doing the test.

"I like it a lot because I think it helps us stay in school, which benefits all of us," said 8th-grade student, Shane Harris.

"It's helped our staff and our community feel more comfortable being in school," added La Grange District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher.

The saliva test, which is not FDA approved, is quick and cost-effective.

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School board member, Dr. Edward Campbell, who is also a virologist at Loyola, is the brainchild of the entire operation. He has transformed the currently unused science center at one of the district's other schools into the lab where tests are processed daily.

"Once we get the tubes with the saliva in them, it's about a four-hour process before we have our first results on those samples," he said. "At this point, no teacher or student has gone to school the next morning without us knowing the results of the saliva they provided [the day before], which is a key part of the approach."

The testing is entirely voluntary, with about 81% of the student body and staff participating.

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So far it helped contain a post-Halloween outbreak in three 5th grade classrooms. Last week, 11 tests out of more than 3,000 returned what they call "possible clinical significance."

"What we're catching are asymptomatic children and that's really what this test is looking at," Schumacher said. "We are not telling people if they have COVID or not. We tell them there is possible clinical significance, [and] you should then go to your physician to go get a diagnostic test."

The testing protocol is catching on. Two nearby districts are paying to process their own tests at District 102's lab. While New Trier, Glenbrook and a handful of others have initiated their own saliva testing regime.

The video featured is from a previous report.