Part 2: Challenges_ A Look Back on Carle Illinois' Response to COVID-19
From Ryann Monahan
However, Carle Illinois and experts across the campus show those challenges as an opportunity for innovation. So, they made a list. “Here’s all the things we can’t do but if we could do them, we could actually have a really good chance of getting ahead of this and creating a safer space for our student,” Martin Burke, Carle Illinois associate dean for research said.
At the top of the list was a test. The team identified too many roadblocks to the standard nasal swab and insisted there must be a better way. “Paul Hergenrother had the brilliant idea to skip steps and go straight from saliva to the PCR,” Burke recalled, and it worked. “This is where we had an opportunity to innovate in a way that would have a huge impact.”
The UIUC team went on a “full-court all-out blitz” of innovation. “After failing 1,000 times, the team discovered a method that goes directly from salvia to PCR,” Burke said. The method later became SHIELD and has been performed more than a million times across UIUC’s camp’s- keeping positivity rates law and avoiding deaths and hospitalizations.
Data Science and communication innovations were also critical to UIUC’s success. A team of UIUC data scientists built a strategy for how to deploy fast scalable testing. The Safer Illinois app was created to take results from the lab to a person’s smartphone, enable an accessibility feature to enter buildings and relay exposure notifications.
This is Part 2 of the series “A Look Back on Carle Illinois' Response to COVID-19.”