Campus Saliva Test Validated; Students Traveling For Thanksgiving to be Tested

(Tommy Ly)

By Trevor Brandon-Harris

DAVIS – UC Davis announced Tuesday that its in-house rapid saliva-based COVID-19 test “has officially been validated” in accordance with UC Davis Health procedures and that the university plans to substantially ramp up on-campus testing over the next few weeks.

Separately, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Pablo Reguerin also informed students in an email on Nov. 5 that any students who travel or visit other households over the Thanksgiving holiday “will be expected to be tested at the campus testing kiosk in the week prior to leaving Davis and again within seven days of their return.”

Reguerin also reminded students that UC Davis discourages any non-essential travel and that Yolo County does not permit indoor gatherings. He further said that students who leave Davis for Thanksgiving are “encouraged, if possible, to remain away for the remainder of fall quarter and continue their learning remotely at least until the start of winter quarter.”

UC Davis’s asymptomatic screening program, which was established in September to test freshman and transfer students living on campus weekly, has been slowly expanding to new groups, with just over 3,000 students and staff being subject to weekly testing as of last week.

As of Nov. 7, UC Davis had performed 17,615 coronavirus tests in total during the two-month pilot portion of its program, with 12 students and staff testing positive since the program began.

Following a three-week period with no positive results, three students tested positive for coronavirus during the week of Oct. 25, and another three tested positive last week. Weekly testing data can be found on the university’s coronavirus dashboard.

Now that the screening program has been validated, UC Davis plans to invite an initial 6,000 students, faculty and staff to begin making weekly testing appointments, and further plans to make testing available to all students and employees “in the near future.” In a Nov. 6 message, Vice Chancellor for Finance, Operations and Administration Kelly Ratliff said that she expected mandatory testing for all employees who access campus facilities to be implemented by December.

During the pilot portion of the testing program, the campus’s saliva tests were backed up by traditional nasal swab tests. Now that the university has validated its saliva method, it is discontinuing the use of nasal swab tests. Many universities nationwide have embraced saliva-based tests, which are typically cheaper to produce and have quicker turnaround times than nasal tests.

UC Davis had planned to seek FDA review of its saliva test, even after the Trump administration made the agency’s Emergency Use Authorization review process optional for laboratory-developed tests in August. In October, however, the agency announced that it would suspend a review of lab-developed tests altogether.

Instead, the lab director for UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services followed UC Davis Health procedures to validate the test. The test was compared to another validated saliva test, and “achieved similar results in terms of sensitivity and specificity.”

The campus has been testing students at a kiosk in the Pavilion Parking Structure. According to the university’s announcement, testing will now take place in the Activities and Recreation Center’s Four-Court Gym to accommodate the increase in eligible students and staff.

“This space wins because it is huge and we can bring in 100 percent outside air,” said David Coil, a project scientist who worked on the team that helped select the new site. “And if we can’t do that because it is too cold, then we have MERV 13 filters which have a very high efficiency of removing the coronavirus particulates from the air.”

Newly eligible students and staff will be contacted with instructions on how to schedule their first testing appointment. According to the university’s testing information page, which has a full list of eligible groups, information about how students who plan to travel for Thanksgiving can schedule testing appointments will be provided by mid-November.

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