Arizona State University will reach a major COVID-19 rapid testing milestone Thursday after administering its one millionth saliva test.
The university’s Biodesign Institute developed the PCR saliva test after noticing a need in the community for faster and more accurate results than were being delivered with standard nasal swab testing.
“The completion of the university’s 1 millionth COVID test is a remarkable milestone, and a moment to reflect on the efforts of so many who joined together to address this urgent need,” Sally C. Morton, executive vice president for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, said in a written statement.
The Biodesign Institute began developing the saliva test shortly after Arizona was put on lockdown in March 2020.
ASU announced in late May 2020 that the pilot program created for the saliva test was successful.
The early stages of saliva testing mainly involved ASU students, but as of Thursday, about 64% of the total number of tests given out by ASU went to members of the public outside of the school, its employees and its partners.
Seventy-one test sites have been set up around the state, allowing individuals in several counties to get tested quickly and easily.
The 1 millionth test is a big achievement in a state where just more than 6 million tests of any kind have been administered since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need for a new kind of test became clear in the early months of the pandemic, when most individuals tested did not receive results until seven to 10 days after the administration of a standard commercial nasal swab test.
With the rapid saliva test developed by ASU, results could be made available as soon as 24 hours to 48 hours after a sample was collected.
“We were getting answers to people back when it mattered for them to know that they were infected and know that they had to get out of circulation. That’s been a point of pride for us. We’ve maintained that sort of rapid turnaround the whole time,” Joshua LaBaer, the Biodesign Institute’s executive director, said in a written statement.
The saliva test was introduced not only to combat the delayed results coming from commercial labs, but also to protect health care workers, who were often put at risk of exposure when administering a nasal swab.
The saliva test allowed for minimum contact between those giving the tests and those getting them.
By November 2020, the liquid handling robots that tested for the disease in saliva were capable of processing over 12,000 samples a day. In January 2021, a record number of 131,423 samples were processed by ASU and the Arizona Department of Health Services, which aided the university in the administration of tests within outside communities.
The saliva tests were provided at no cost to any ASU student or faculty member. That encouraged more students, who may have been hesitant about the uncomfortable and expensive nasal swab, to be tested more frequently.
As the saliva testing method became more available to Arizona’s general population, it quickly became an easy option for many people.
“This is a milestone that reflects the university’s commitment to be of service to the people of the state of Arizona,” ASU President Michael Crow said in a written statement. “Regardless of the surges and plateaus in the number of cases of COVID-19, testing will continue to be a critical component in how society manages its way through the impact of this deadly virus.”