The University of Oregon announced in June 2020 that it would be applying for emergency use authorization of a saliva-based COVID-19 test. While approved, it is yet to be implemented.

The executive director of UO’s Monitoring and Assessment Program, Brian Fox, said that the university began to develop a lab that could process nasal swab and saliva testing last year. UO decided to primarily use nasal swabs since they were approved before saliva testing, and the community became more comfortable with them, Fox said.

“We felt like we could go a little bit slower on developing the other one, like it wasn't worth doing a lab-developed test,” he said. “The research process for that can take a while, and we had something that worked.”

SalivaDirect — the method UO would use — was developed by the Yale School of Public Health. According to Yale’s SalivaDirect website, the method detects the virus in a similar way but is cheaper. Fox said it’s also as accurate as nasal swabs.

The FDA issued emergency use authorization for SalivaDirect in August 2020. Even though the MAP website says it has been approved, UO has yet to make use of it.

Fox said that UO is making modifications to the original testing method and is currently waiting for FDA approval for those updates, which is delaying the rollout. The August emergency use authorization issued for the original method “involved a process that was not designated to work with the automation that UO has in place in our lab,” he said.

“We have been working with Yale to propose and submit modifications to the SalivaDirect EUA to the FDA, which if approved would allow us to do automated saliva testing under their EUA,” Fox said.

The rollout of saliva testing is looking like it may be coming soon. Fox said the University of Illinois has made progress in optimizing the process, and UO is waiting to see whether it could work.

“We'd love to move quickly. But I think it'll be kind of a slow, measured piece because we want to get it right,” he said.

Adding an additional testing method has many benefits. Not only is saliva testing as accurate, cheaper and faster than nasal swabs, Fox said that the university will be able to test on a larger scale.

“The real benefit for us is that that efficiency gain in the lab means that our overall capacity would increase,” he said. “Which means that we can support the state and the community and other partners in their testing needs.”

Fox said he is proud of the way the MAP team has been dealing with the challenge of COVID-19 testing and is excited about saliva testing.

“I think it's one more way that they can lead the charge right in partnering with leading institutions across the country to figure out how to do something new,” he said. “Really taking science into the community and applying it is such a great application of our mission.”