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. 

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.

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

Who is required to participate in surveillance testing?

Unvaccinated employees and unvaccinated students who have received a medical or religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement and are living on campus, taking face-to-face classes in DeKalb or participating in an NIU-sponsored opportunities like clinicals, internships or student teaching, are required to undergo weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing.

For Spring 2022, NIU has expanded surveillance testing to include on-campus vaccinated students and employees. 20% of our these groups will be tested weekly beginning Tuesday, Jan. 18. Vaccinated individuals can expect to test once every five weeks at a SHIELD testing location on campus. Those individuals who have tested positive within 90 days of their assigned test dates will not be required to test. 

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.
I am fully vaccinated. Do I still have to participate in surveillance testing?

Yes. In response to the prevalence of the Omicron variant, NIU has expanded surveillance testing to include vaccinated employees and students. 20% of our on-campus vaccinated employees and students will be tested weekly to help the university monitor virus dynamics in our campus community. Vaccinated individuals can expect to test once every five weeks. All employees will be given release time to take the test on campus during their selected weeks. Students and employees who have tested positive within 90 days of their assigned test dates will not be required to test within that time period. 

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