A new method to diagnose COVID-19 starts Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The FDA recently authorized a saliva test for emergency use, which is expected to impact safety significantly by increasing the number of people who can be tested each day. This test is much less invasive than swab tests currently used for testing. All you have to do is spit into a vial filled with a preservative. The sample then gets sent to a lab for testing and you’ll see results between 24 and 48 hours. The only prerequisite is to abstain from eating, drinking, chewing gum, or smoking for 30 minutes before the test. Basically, just keep any items out of your mouth for 30 minutes before the test or you’ll have to reschedule.
So far, this test is only available in Edison, New Jersey. The company producing the tests says they can supply over one million tests each month with a future capacity of 5 million per month. But, because this is just getting started, we can’t say how long it will take to expand the test to other locations.
At-Home Coronavirus Tests
Right now, we do not have tests that you can take at home. The FDA is working with companies to develop such tests, but none have been authorized. Even this new saliva test must be administered by a healthcare worker. Now, it may be possible in the future to self-administer a test from the safety of your own home. You could have a telehealth call with a medical professional and then mail in the sample. Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.
Saliva Tests Vs. Nasal Swabs
A benefit to saliva tests is that they are safer than nasal swabs. Nasal swabs require healthcare workers to get very close to their patients to administer a nose or throat swab. This opens the worker up to the risk of the patient sneezing on them and potentially infecting them with coronavirus. On the other hand, a saliva test can be done at a distance and then handed back to a healthcare worker from a potentially infected patient. This means less exposure and, therefore, risk for healthcare workers. A saliva test also helps preserve personal protective equipment because healthcare workers don’t need to be so close to their patients to administer the test.
Another added benefit to saliva tests is that they are far less invasive to patients. The swab has to go all the way to the back of your throat or high up your nostrils to collect a sample. Spitting into a tube is much more comfortable than swabbing nasal tissue. We’d also use fewer swabs this way and we’re starting to run low on our supply.