Returning to regular life is going to require improved COVID-19 tests to be available throughout society. Including in sports, which is why the NBA played a role in funding and testing a saliva-based test that was recently granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The test was developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health as a quicker, cheaper method of determining whether someone is infected with COVID-19. Yale’s release on the approved test, which is called SalivaDirect, said that it’s “being further validated as a test for asymptomatic individuals through a program that tests players and staff from the National Basketball Association (NBA). SalivaDirect is simpler, less expensive and less invasive than the traditional method for such testing, known as nasopharyngeal (NP) swabbing. Results so far have found that SalivaDirect is highly sensitive and yields similar outcomes as NP swabbing.”
The emergency authorization ensures that SalivaDirect is immediately available to other diagnostic laboratories.
“This is a huge step forward to make testing more accessible,” Chantal Vogels, a Yale postdoctoral fellow, said in Yale’s release. “This started off as an idea in our lab soon after we found saliva to be a promising sample type of the detection of SARS-CoV-2, and now it has the potential to be used on a large scale to help protect public health. We are delighted to make this contribution to the fight against coronavirus.”
CBS reported that each SalivaDirect test would cost about $10, and that up to 200,000 samples per day could be processed.
“Wide-spread testing is critical for our control efforts,” assistant professor Nathan Grubaugh said. “We simplified the test so that it only costs a couple of dollars for reagents, and we expect that labs will only charge about $10 per sample. If cheap alternatives like SalivaDirect can be implemented across the country, we may finally get a handle on this pandemic, even before a vaccine.”
Yale said that SalivaDirect research was funded by the NBA, National Basketball Players Association, and a Fast Grant from the Emergent Ventures at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. According to Forbes, SalivaDirect is the fifth saliva test that has received authorization from the FDA.
“What makes this test unique is that you don’t have to take an extra step to separate the genetic material or nucleic acid from the sample,” wrote Forbes’ Bruce Y. Lee. “Therefore, to perform the test labs don’t need special nucleic acid extraction kids, which have been, surprise, surprise, in short supply during the pandemic.”
The NBA has long been part of the COVID-19 story. The league shut down after the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive in March. The NBA has been playing games in its Orlando bubble since July 30, and is beginning its 16-team postseason this week.
Fast testing would be crucial going into a fall that is still looking at playing a significant amount of professional and college football. According to Sports Illustrated, NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline told CNN Saturday night that “Right now, if testing in the U.S. stays the way it is, there’s no way we can go forward with sports.”
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