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Sacred Heart, University of Saint Joseph roll out saliva-based COVID-19 test for students, staff

In the past week, two Connecticut universities began using a saliva-based COVID-19 test that was developed at Yale, in response to heightened concerns about coronavirus outbreaks on campuses.

On Monday, the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford began using the SalivaDirect test, which is a less invasive COVID-19 test that uses a patient’s saliva as opposed to a nasal swab. A day later, on Tuesday, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield also rolled out the SalivaDirect test on its campus.

Other universities, including Quinnipiac in Hamden, have already implemented other forms of saliva testing, The Courant previously reported.

University of Saint Joseph President Rhona Free said in a statement that the university has been testing a portion of students weekly since the school year began — but when university officials noticed other campuses begin to see outbreaks, they decided to increase their weekly testing numbers.

“Over the last few weeks as we saw upticks of positive cases on other campuses we decided to increase the percentage of students tested each week and we also wanted more rapid results,” Free said. “SalivaDirect was able to complete the new level of testing that we needed with quick results.”

The University of Saint Joseph plans to continue administering the saliva tests at least two days a week through the end of the semester, Free said.

Sacred Heart’s rollout of SalivaDirect also comes amid heightened concerns of an outbreak.

Earlier this week Sacred Heart said that more than 100 students have been suspended for violating the school’s COVID-19 protocols since the start of the semester. President John J. Petillo has warned that a saying “a significant number” of students were not taking the pandemic seriously and said the school could suspend in-person education if its cases did not slow.

Sacred Heart spokesperson Deb Noack said the university is currently administering about 1,300 nasal swab tests per week, and is now also adding about 900 saliva tests to that count. The university hopes to add even more saliva tests in the coming weeks.

In addition to being less invasive, saliva tests can also sometimes produce results more quickly. Noack said the university typically receives results in 24 to 36 hours for nasal swab tests, compared to 12 to 36 hours for saliva tests.

SalivaDirect was developed at the Yale School of Public Health, and partially funded by the NBA. In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the testing method an emergency use authorization, although at the time it was already being used to provide quick, pain-free testing to NBA players.

Yale’s saliva test was the fifth saliva-based test to gain authorization from the FDA.

“As we ramp up our testing program, SalivaDirect offers a great solution to allow us to dramatically increase the number of tests we do weekly on students, faculty and staff,” said Gary MacNamara, the co-chair of Sacred Heart’s coronavirus planning team, in a statement.

This story has been updated.

Emily Brindley can be reached at ebrindley@courant.com.

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