The test, developed by Rutgers University, has users spit into a cup, a safer alternative to the current method that requires medical workers to take nose and throat swabs

By Eric Todisco
April 14, 2020 01:24 PM
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Credit: Rutgers University

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of test to identify cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, that uses saliva samples.

To take the new test, developed by Rutgers University, people produce a testable sample by spitting into a cup. It’s seen as a safer alternative to the current tests, which require medical personnel to take nose and throat swabs from patients, potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

Rutgers said that their saliva tests could increase the number of screenings for COVID-19 by up to 10,000 tests per day. It would also reduce the amount of masks and swabs needed for testing, both of which are short supply.

The New Jersey-based university’s test, developed by RUCDR Infinite Biologics in partnership with Spectrum Solutions and Accurate Diagnostic Labs (ADL), was granted emergency use authorization on Saturday, the FDA said.

“The impact of this approval is significant,” said Andrew Brooks, chief operating officer and director of technology development at RUCDR. “It means we no longer have to put health care professionals at risk for infection by performing nasopharyngeal [nasal] or oropharyngeal [oral] collections. [And] we can preserve precious personal protective equipment for use in patient care instead of testing.”

Plus, he said, “we can significantly increase the number of people tested each and every day as self-collection of saliva is more quick and scalable than swab collections. All of this combined will have a tremendous impact on testing in New Jersey and across the United States.”

Brooks previously told PEOPLE that “the goal here is to make this generally available for all labs that are doing COVID testing in the interest of helping to keep everybody healthy.”

Brooks said that the saliva test will reduce the amount of personal protective equipment needed for sample collectors, and reduce their risk of getting close to a patient and possibly becoming infected during collection.

“The whole idea here is to create a scenario where it’s easier to collect and you’re not putting healthcare professionals at risk or yourself at risk. You’re not wasting precious PPE.”

He also said the test will increase accuracy rates and can be done quickly before sending the sample to a lab for analysis, and said that they’re able to get results between 24 to 48 hours after they arrive in a lab.

Credit: Alamy

Rutgers said that starting Wednesday, in partnership with the Middlesex County government and RWJBarnabas Health, the saliva test will be available to county residents at a drive-thru testing facility in Edison, New Jersey.

The U.S. has struggled to make COVID-19 testing widely available to all Americans. The government initially restricted testing to the Centers for Disease Control, but their test malfunctioned, and the country lost critical weeks waiting for a usable test. Nearly two months later, the limited amount of tests available are largely restricted to those who are already showing COVID-19 symptoms or essential health care workers.

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New tests, like Rutgers’ and one from Abbott Laboratories that delivers rapid results, are promising, and experts have said that the U.S. needs to reach a point where anyone can get tested, even those who are not showing symptoms, before the country can reopen.

“If we have quick testing, maybe that’s our way out,” Dr. Emily Gurley, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, previously told PEOPLE.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there are at least 580,878 cases of coronavirus and over 23,000 deaths in the United States, according to the New York Times.

  • With reporting by DIANE HERBST

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