A recently approved rapid saliva test for COVID-19 is already being used on college campuses across the United States.
Also called spit tests, they produce results in less than 24 hours, cost about $10, and are less invasive than the standard swab that is placed deep into the nose.
Yale University School of Public Health in Connecticut partnered with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Basketball Players Association in June, the school said, to devise the test, called SalivaDirect.
“Direct saliva testing can address bottlenecks of time, cost and supplies,” said Dr. Martin Burke, a chemistry professor who helped design a saliva test at the University of Illinois in collaboration with Yale University.
“Once somebody is infected, the amount of virus in their system can rise very rapidly. Unless we have a test that can give them results very quickly, by the time somebody finds out they are infected, they will have spread the virus,” said Rebecca Lee Smith, a professor of pathobiology on the Illinois University website.
“The faster we can notify people, the faster we can stop the spread,” Smith said.
At the University of South Carolina, officials say they will test thousands of students and employees daily for COVID-19, with no limit on frequency. The simpler test is advised for those without symptoms. Those with flu-like symptoms like fever are advised to get a nasal swab test.
Colleges and universities across the U.S. have grappled with how to teach classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Infected younger people have been less impacted by the virus than older people but are seen as asymptomatic spreaders.
Now that the fall semester for many U.S. schools is under way, school officials are seeking ways to manage the spread of infection while maintaining curriculum. While many initially said they would bring students back to campus for classes, and many students have moved back to their college towns, more and more are going to online-only programs.
Contributing to the academic effort to control the pandemic, Davidson College in North Carolina created the College Crisis Initiative, which tracks coronavirus cases, university responses, and subsequent innovation.
Of nearly 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., 784 are conducting classes primarily online, 584 are primarily in person, 460 are a hybrid or combination of the two, and 718 remain undecided, according to Davidson.