Two local school districts which have been offering saliva tests to screen for COVID this year have not yet decided whether to offer the tests again next year.

LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 has operated a testing lab the entire school year and has contracted with a few other school districts, including Riverside Elementary School District 96, to offer the tests. 

But with vaccines now widely available to those 12 years and older, District 102 officials have not yet decided to repeat that effort.

“Obviously we’re closing it down for the summer once school is out,” said District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher. “The board will have to make a decision as to how much surveillance we want to do for next year.”

District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said that Riverside schools are also on the fence after expressing disappointment about the testing participation rate. In the week that ended on May 14, less than half — 44.27 percent — of District 96 staff and students attending school in person submitted saliva samples to be tested.

Ed Campbell (Photo courtesy of Loyola University)

The District 102 lab was quickly set up at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year in the basement of Barnsdale Road School in LaGrange Park by school board member Ed Campbell, a Brookfield resident who is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Loyola University Medical Center. 

Campbell went on, with the help of a couple of friends, to form a for-profit company, SafeGuard Surveillance, to conduct saliva testing for other school districts. SafeGuard Surveillance does no testing for District 102 or District 96.

Last fall, Campbell said that he hoped to shut down SafeGuard this summer, but now he says the company will continue to run saliva tests into the next school year.  

“It looks like, because of vaccine hesitancy or other things, there will still will be a role for testing in the fall and we will be there to help the schools that want to use us,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the company will do some work this summer for districts offering summer school. The company has signed up a few new industrial clients.

But a recent decision by the Illinois State Board of Education to give $225 million in subsidies to a SafeGuard competitor threatens to cost SafeGuard business. The federal stimulus money is being made available to school districts that use a saliva test developed by a for-profit spinoff of a University of Illinois-developed test called COVIDSHEILD. 

The subsidy will allow school districts to purchase the COVIDSHIELD test, which had previously cost nearly double the price of SafeGuard, for $10 per test. Safeguard has been charging $11 per test.

Campbell said that SafeGuard will probably cut its price to match the new price of the Shield test.

“I think we can find a way to come down to that price point,” Campbell said. “We can probably do that without $225 million in subsidies.”

Campbell hopes SafeGuard’s existing clients will stick with his company. He notes that SafeGuard’s test and procedures have certain advantages over the Shield test. It requires less saliva and individuals can deposit their saliva samples into a tube at home and just bring the tube to school, while the Shield test requires that a person be observed depositing the saliva sample.

“I think it will come down to what test individual school districts prefer and what is most convenient for them.” Campbell said.