Operation Expanded Testing

Flexible Partnership Between Illinois Department of Public Health, Operation Expanded Testing, and SHIELD Expands COVID-19 Testing for the State

COVID-19 testing in schools and congregate settings proved to be a challenge in Illinois, partly because the rural and urban areas of the state greatly differed in their testing needs. To address the challenge of scale and varying needs, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) partnered with Operation Expanded Testing (OpET) to provide a routine testing option within Illinois, increase testing capacity, and facilitate faster access to COVID-19 testing.

As sites began implementing OpET, IDPH learned that routine testing programs are not a one-size-fits-all model. Early setbacks included limited staffing and specimen collection logistics. However, with the flexibility of the OpET program, IDPH was able to subcontract with SHIELD Illinois, a testing initiative pioneered by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to provide trained staff to implement and manage OpET in school settings.

OpET has been particularly beneficial to small rural schools with a small number of tests by providing an expansive logistic network of shipping couriers and laboratories for easier specimen collection and shipment.

The partnership between SHIELD, IDPH, and OpET has proven successful in being used predominantly in areas with a high Social Vulnerability Index score, which is the main focus of the OpET program. “This is a strength of OpET. It has helped us focus on the smallest schools and the most rural schools,” explained John Arenas, COVID-19 Testing Strategy Coordinator at IDPH. “We really needed FedEx or something similar to help us out because it was not efficient to reach those areas before.”

In addition, the collaboration between OpET and IDPH has allowed routine testing to be implemented in congregate settings such as correctional facilities. IDPH directly connects the facilities with the OpET program, eliminating skepticism from administrators who receive cold calls from various testing companies. IDPH credits the increase in testing in these settings with OpET’s willingness and flexibility to work directly with the state’s health department.  “It’s thanks to OpET’s willingness to work directly with IDPH and be flexible with the needs of these congregate settings that are even giving us a chance to sign them,” Arenas said.

CDC recognizes the Midwest Coordination Center for its support and management of the OpET Midwestern Hub.

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