Surveillance Testing FAQ

About Surveillance Testing

What is surveillance testing?

A surveillance testing program samples a specific population to be tested for COVID-19, regardless of whether they have a known exposure or are showing symptoms. This allows the university to make inferences about the level of spread in the campus population, especially as people may be asymptomatic. Those who are unvaccinated and live, work and attend classes on campus are part of the university's surveillance testing program.

What is the SHIELD test?

SHIELD is a saliva-based, non-invasive COVID-19 test that simply requires an individual to deposit a saliva sample into a provided vial at the on-campus testing site. Samples are then transported to a network of lab partners who will process and return results to Northwestern Medicine, NIU and the individual who was tested typically within 24 hours.

Read more information on the science behind the saliva-based test.

What happens when a student does not participate in testing as required?

If you miss your testing appointment for a week, the following will happen:

  • You will receive an email to your NIU student email account notifying you that you have missed the mandatory appointment. You will have two business days to both reschedule and come in for testing.
  • Failure to reschedule and be tested within the two business days will result in your access to campus, including in-person classes, being revoked until you test. 
  • If you are a student employee, your NIU supervisor will be notified that you are not allowed to work on campus until you have completed your test and are deemed compliant in the following week.

If you miss two or more tests the following will happen:

  • NIU Housing contract will be terminated and you will not be eligible for a refund.
  • A permanent removal from campus and in-person classes will be issued for the remainder of the semester.
Do I have to participate if I’m not having symptoms?

Yes. Surveillance testing is only for those who are not having symptoms. Many people may be positive but not have symptoms (asymptomatic) and could spread the virus. Testing will help us reduce the potential for spread.

Surveillance Testing Participants

Why aren’t people who are vaccinated required to participate in surveillance testing?
The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people with no COVID-19-like symptoms and no known exposure should be exempted from routine screening testing programs. Although data on COVID-19, vaccines, and surveillance testing is still evolving, current scientific evidence indicates that nearly all asymptomatic, vaccinated people are unlikely to be infected; if such people sustain rare (< 1%) breakthrough infections, the vast majority are unlikely to have sufficient viral loads that make them infectious because of their immunity. This evidence contrasts with data from unvaccinated populations, where the vast majority of infections and transmission occur.
I don't teach any face-to-face classes. Why did I receive a message about participating in surveillance testing?
The rosters for surveillance testing of face-to-face classes are pulled based on the modalities listed in MyNIU. If the modality listed for your course is in-person, hybrid or staggered, you and your class are included in surveillance testing because that information tells us that you are on campus holding in-person classes semi-regularly. You can help us have the best and most up-to-date information by updating your class modality information using this form. Ensuring this information is correct also helps us more quickly process student exemption requests.

The Day of Your Test

How can I prepare for my test?

Stay hydrated up until an hour before your test. Being dehydated makes it harder to produce the saliva you need for test. 

However, for ONE HOUR before your test, you must not eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth, use mouthwash or chew gum. If you accidentally do one of these things within the hour before your test, simply arrive later for your test. There is no need to reschedule as long as you arrive before the testing site closes.

Also on the day of your test, please avoid any artifically-colored energy drinks that may affect the color of your saliva. 

Where can I park for my test?
If you have an NIU parking permit, you must park in the color lot for your permit. Do not park somewhere you wouldn’t normally park to take your test; you will be ticketed.
What health and safety precautions are being used at the testing site?

The testing site follows the CDC guidelines and recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID. Universally masking is enforced at all times, except during the saliva collection itself, in which case each patient is more than 6 feet apart, utilizing floor markings to promote distance between patients, sanitizing all surfaces routinely as well as pens and clipboards, and providing and promoting the use of hand sanitizer, as well as participants’ time in the office.

After You Test

How do I receive my test results?

Test results will be posted in the patient portal after the lab results are completed. You will receive notifications of current testing results via text and email with a link that directs you to your private patient portal to view results. As always, results also are shared with the Illinois Department of Health, as required.  

If you have trouble creating your account or accessing your results, please call the SHIELD Illinois helpline at 217-265-6059 for assistance.  

If you test positive, it is important to notify the university as soon as you receive the positive result. Complete the COVID-19 reporting checklist and isolate until you receive further instruction from the university's COVID-19 support team. 


What happens if my surveillance test result comes back positive?

NIU, in conjunction with the DeKalb County Health Department, will require anyone who tests positive to isolate for 10 days from the date when the test was administered. Students who live on-campus have the choice of isolating at home or in a university-monitored facility. Retests are not provided for positive results.

If you test positive, it is important to notify the university as soon as you receive the positive result. Complete the COVID-19 reporting checklist and isolate until you receive further instruction from the university's COVID-19 support team. 

You will also receive a call from the DeKalb County Health Department for contact tracing. It is important to this phone call and follow all instructions to ensure the health of yourself and others.

My test was invalid or rejected. What does that mean?

If you receive an invalid or rejected test result, it means that the sample you provided was non-optimal and could not be put through the testing process or could not produce appropriate data to determine whether or not you are infected with the virus. If you receive an invalid/rejected test result, you will be required to retest within 48 hours of your original test date. Before your next test, please be sure to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking tooth brushing, mouth washing, or for at least 1 hour prior to submitting your saliva sample. For best results, it is recommended that you hydrate during the morning and retest in the afternoon.

My test result was inconclusive. What does that mean?

If you receive an inconclusive test result, it means that a small amount of the COVID-19 virus’ DNA was identified in the sample you provided. However, the amount of virus detected was not enough to be a confirmed positive result.

An inconclusive test result is treated similarly to a positive COVID-19 case and requires a re-test, but NOT at the surveillance testing site.

If you receive an inconclusive test result: 

  1. Self-isolate and complete the COVID-19 Reporting Checklist ASAP.
  2. If you are a student, you should call the Student Health Center (SHC) at 815-306-2777 to schedule a re-test at the SHC.
    If you are an employee, you should call your primary care physician for an order to re-test through their medical practice.


Do I have to participate if I’ve previously tested negative for COVID-19?
Yes. A negative test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing or that your sample was collected too early in your infection. You could also be exposed to COVID-19 after the test and then get infected and spread the virus to others. For these reasons, you will required to test weekly unless your status changes to fully vaccinated.
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