Amazon-backed electric vehicle maker will help launch a COVID-19 testing lab

Electric vehicle maker Rivian has inked a deal with the University of Illinois to use its COVID-19 saliva tests in its factories in Illinois and California.

The Amazon-backed startup donated $500,000 to U of I’s SHIELD COVID-19 testing program to launch and support a new lab at Illinois State University, which is close to the company’s plant in Normal.

“The proximity of the Normal lab to our facility means the turnaround time for our workers’ COVID-19 test results has dropped from 36 to 24 hours,” Jessica Siron, director of environmental, health and safety at Rivian said in the statement. “This gives us the ability to respond faster to a positive test result and trace it, which allows us to stay on schedule safely.”

The SHIELD lab in Normal, run by Illinois State University staff, opened Jan. 11 and is currently processing about 5,000 tests a week from Rivian’s 3.5 million-square-foot manufacturing plant in Normal. Rivian is also using the U of I’s saliva-based test in its operations in California.

The Irvine, Calif.-based automaker also has facilities in Arizona, Michigan, Vancouver, and England. It intends to launch a trio of new vehicles in out of its Illinois factory, aiming to make as many as 40,000 in its first full year—or an average of almost 800 a week.

SHIELD Illinois is charging private companies $30 per test, plus the cost of collection, a U of I spokesman said in an email. The program currently has two private company customers, Rivian and agricultural giant ADM. Other partners include public entities like universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and government bodies, which pay $25, plus collections, for the test.

“We want to help reopen Illinois schools and businesses safely; that’s our entire purpose,” said Ron Watkins, managing director of SHIELD Illinois, a unit created by the U of I System to share testing throughout the state.

A separate university-connected unit, Sheild T3, is helping deploy the SHIELD saliva test outside Illinois and will soon begin testing Rivian’s workers in Palo Alto, California.

To date, the U of I System has administered more than 1.5 million of the SHIELD tests at its Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield universities, the statement said. The tests are being used at more than 40 sites.

This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain Chicago Business.

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