The country's first coronavirus saliva testing site is set to open in New Jersey and it could be a game-changer for healthcare workers and for overall testing across the U.S.
Middlesex County will begin administering drive-thru saliva tests at the Motor Vehicle Commission inspection bay in Edison on Wednesday morning. The test by Rutgers University researchers earlier this week received emergency FDA approval partly because it reduces risks for healthcare workers.
"They can be 6 feet away. They can be insuring they are not close to a potential person who has the virus. Hand it to them and hand it back. So the amount of safety is increased significantly," said Stephen Fanning, the President of Utah's Spectrum Solutions, one of the biotech firms that worked on the saliva test.
Healthcare workers at testing sites have been administering close-contact nasal swabs to patients, which increases their likelihood of contracting the virus. With the new test, a patient will only have to spit into a saliva collection device and fill it up to the indicated line. Those going to a drive-thru testing center would only have to roll their window down a crack to receive the vials, spit inside, then hand it back.
"The amount of safety is increased significantly," Fanning said.
Rutgers is partnering with South Plainfield-based Accurate Diagnostic Labs to test the kits, which consist of easily manufactured glass vials with another easily manufactured liquid agent inside. The lab said tens of thousands of the kits will be ready within the next week or so, and millions more could possibly be made shortly after.
The proprietary solution detects the virus that causes COVID-19, according to researchers. The test also has a relatively fast turn-around time: just 24 to 48 hours, and will be one of the most accurate tests out there. In addition, machines will be able to process thousands of saliva samples and produce thousands of results per day, officials said.
Fanning tells NBC New York that his company can supply more than a million tests a month and can ramp up to more than 5 million in the near future.
The saliva test currently can only look for infections and it won't be able to determine whether someone has survived COVID-19 with immunity. However, immunity testing is something Fanning says his team is looking into.
Middlesex County Public Health Officer Lester Jones applauded the new test, saying "it is less PPE needs to be used which everybody across the nation is in need of."
"It reduces the exposure to our personnel to our healthcare personnel, to our personnel who are doing the sampling," Jones said.
The saliva tests in Middlesex County will be by appointment only and it will only be available to county residents for now but developments say it could be used across the nation and the world.