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AU sees successful first day of COVID-19 saliva testing

Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 6:16 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Getting tested for COVID-19 is becoming a lot less uncomfortable as Augusta University Health started saliva testing at its drive-thru testing site downtown.

That means fewer nasal swab tests and that’s an important switch.

If you go to the AU Health downtown testing site, you’ll see the line wraps around the building, but you start the test immediately when you pull in. Drivers spit in a cup and then pull around where a nurse uses a syringe to put the saliva in a tube.

It doesn’t look much different from the line itself, but saliva testing is changing the approach to COVID-19 in Augusta.

“We had a one-week trial, where we processed around 500 saliva samples in children and some adults. We have looked at it, and it looks really good,” Dr. Ravindra Kolhe said.

Kolhe and the team at the Medical College of Georgia GEM Lab created the new test. We spoke with the team back in May as the program was getting started. Now, there are several lines of people waiting for a much more comfortable and safer virus test.

“When you’re taking the swab, the virus can actually go up in the air,” Kolhe explained.

For a saliva test, contact is limited between nurses and the patient. Yet AU’s research shows it’s sometimes more effective than the nasal swab, but only if it’s done exactly right -- even down to what is spit in the test cup.

“They are looking for saliva, not sputum,” Kolhe said.

In simple terms, sputum is what comes up when you clear your throat.

But AU is the first in Georgia to process saliva tests, and one of only a few in the country to do it this way. Kolhe says after saliva testing, the innovation won’t stop.

“How quickly can we do it, how accessible these samples should be. So, at-home testing, pin-prick testing,” Kolhe said.

For now, they’ll be turning around saliva tests to patients as quickly as they can. In some cases, even quicker than 24 hours.

“I’m very sure people are going to drive from other parts of the state to come and do these tests,” Kolhe said.

AU officials stress that you do not eat, drink, chew gum or put anything in your mouth up to an hour before the test. They say they’ve already had many issues on day one with that.

If you need to sign up for a saliva test, AU says you can do it through their app or online. It’s the same process as signing up for the nasal swab test.

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