CHICAGO (CBS) — In an effort to help schools fully reopen for in-person learning in the fall, the Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced a $225 million program to provide rapid COVID-19 testing for middle and high school students.

“For in-person learning to occur, we need to help make schools as safe as possible for students, teachers, and staff,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release. “To help prevent an outbreak, it is important to identify cases of COVID-19 as quickly as possible.  Having testing readily available in schools can make it easier for more students to be tested and cases identified quicker.  Testing, along with vaccination and masking, will help all of Illinois get back to in-person learning.”

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Under the new program, IDPH will provide the covidSHIELD test developed by the University of Illinois at little to no cost for middle school and high school districts that opt into the program.

The covidSHIELD saliva testing system returns results within 12-24 hours, allowing health officials to more quickly identify potential exposures, and determine if any quarantines are needed.

IDPH will make the tests available for free at middle and high school districts “that are predominately low-income and have experienced high rates of COVID-19 infection.” Other districts can get the tests for a discounted fee of $10 each.

Districts interested in signing up, or seeking more information on the program should contact Beth Heller at bheller@uillinois.edu.

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The announcement of the school testing program comes as a panel of independent advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Wednesday to recommend Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents age 12 to 15, clearing one of the final remaining hurdles to making the shots available to all Americans as young as 12.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations are expected to be formally adopted by the CDC director, which would allow for a widespread rollout of shots for adolescents to begin within the coming days.

In Illinois, the statewide seven-day average case positivity rate for COVID-19 has dropped to 2.7%, the lowest it’s been since March 25.

IDPH on Wednesday reported 1,795 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as well as 26 more deaths.  Illinois is averaging 2,058 new cases per day so far in May, a 34% decline from the same time in April.

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Meantime, the state’s vaccination rate dipped slightly as of Tuesday night, after climbing for the previous four days. Illinois is now averaging 80,591 vaccinations per day over the past week, down 39% from the state’s peak exactly one month ago.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff