COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Saliva testing offers fast COVID-19 test results without the discomfort of a nasal swab at a cheaper cost per test, according to doctors.
Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) wants to see it rolled out statewide soon.
“We are talking about a matter of weeks and days. Not months. We can’t wait months,” Davis said.
Davis, who serves as the chair of the state Senate’s Re-open SC subcommittee, said lawmakers have a goal of testing 10% of the state’s population every month, which is about 500,000 tests. For perspective, according to DHEC, there have been more than a million tests conducted in S.C. so far.
Dr. Helmut Albrecht, who chairs the Prisma Health-UofSC Medical Group Department of Medicine, helped lead the initiative to establish saliva testing at the University of South Carolina, one of the few universities nationwide to receive FDA authorization to use this type of test.
The test simply requires students to go to a testing site, open an app on their phone, spit in a tube, and wait 24 to 48 hours for results, according to Albrecht.
More than 5,200 students and faculty have been tested on campus since it was rolled out a couple of weeks ago, and Albrecht calls the test a success and has worked with thousands of groups and businesses across the state to test employees and keep their organizations afloat.
“We can help people open up, stay open...pulling out the one or two cases they will get,” he said.
Albrecht said while testing sites are necessary to distribute tubes and gather basic information from people taking tests, the test itself can be taken anywhere.
“I foresee a lemonade stand in every county in the state... self-collecting saliva,” Albrecht imagined.
He said in order for this dream to be realized, UofSC researchers, lawmakers, and DHEC need to all work as one.
“It needs to all come together. There is a whole lot of process. It’s not only ‘here’s your saliva tube’ and then we run it. After the result, there’s a whole lot of administrative tasks that need to be done and financed,” he said.
Davis said his committee has laid out 17 recommendations to address “all aspects” of the administrative tasks Albrecht said needs to be accomplished. For example, the committee has thought about where they could set up potential testing sites and what digital infrastructure would be needed to distribute test results.
Davis said the funds needed to roll out this testing statewide are available from the CARES Act. The last step he said is simply logistics and implementation.
“This is a different approach. This is testing whole populations whether they are exhibiting symptoms or not,” he said.
He said he has communicated his desire for ramped-up testing and using saliva testing to administration officials at DHEC.
“They’ve got to have an entrepreneurial spirit here. They have to have a ‘can-do’ spirit. They got to say, ‘Here is where we need to go. Let’s go ahead get there,’” Davis explained. “That needs to be the mentality. There can’t be a bureaucratic mentality. There can’t be people worrying about not getting things exactly right. We need to start rolling this out aggressively.”
He said the last part is people realizing this is the key to getting back to normal and keeping schools and businesses open to customers.
“People have to be enthusiastic to this,” he said. “They have to want to get tested. They have to understand this is critical to a statewide mitigation strategy.”