July 17, 2020

ASU rolls out Arizona’s first COVID-19 saliva test

Researchers say the method may be more effective than nasal swabs.

As Arizona ramps up testing for COVID-19, options now include a saliva test developed by researchers with Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute. The institute’s director, Dr. Joshua LaBaer, discussed how the testing differs from other methods and how it is being implemented. According to LaBaer, saliva testing requires fewer medical personnel and fewer supplies.

“We don’t have to go through a lot of [personal protective equipment] to collect these samples. In addition, it’s actually a very simple sample to collect, and it’s relatively noninvasive for the person,” LaBaer said. Testing requires a person to spit down a drinking straw into a tube. Results usually take about 24 hours, according to LaBaer.

“Scientifically, it turns out that the saliva samples are as good and maybe even a bit better at detecting the virus. When you think about it, when you use a swab you’re taking a small wiping of a solution and then adding it into saline. Whereas our specimen is entirely from the patient,” LaBaer said.

The saliva tests are primarily offered in the Phoenix metropolitan area by appointment only, which people can sign up for through the Arizona Department of Health Services' website. The university processes about a thousand tests per day, according to LaBaer. It plans to ramp up capacity as the university prepares to welcome back faculty, staff and students in the fall.

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