The University of South Carolina is joining a handful of universities nationwide to implement saliva tests for COVID-19, as part of its plan to reopen for classes this week.
The tests will be free for students, faculty and staff on the school’s Columbia campus, the university said in a news release Tuesday. The tests, which require a single spit sample, are an alternative to nasal swab tests and typically deliver results within 24 hours.
The implementation of the tests comes amid the university’s attempt to hold classes, which are set to begin Thursday, in person. Other higher education institutions in the state, including Clemson University and the College of Charleston, are delaying the start of in-person teaching due to the pandemic.
Elsewhere, schools including Colorado College and the University of Notre Dame have already begun reporting spikes in coronavirus cases this fall. The University of North Carolina announced it will shift to remote learning after identifying multiple clusters of cases among students.
The University of South Carolina is now the only school in the state to receive state certification for the saliva tests, and one of a handful of universities nationwide approved for the tests.
The school said West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals donated 50,000 sample tubes and a robot for processing samples.
“If we want to stop the spread of this deadly virus, we have to expand COVID-19 screening where breakouts can occur, such as college campuses, and that is why this partnership with Carolina is so important,” Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy said in a news release.
The saliva testing approach could lower the barrier to testing across the state, as no trained personnel, testing sites, or personal protective equipment are needed to collect samples, USC School of Medicine professor Helmut Albrecht told state legislators earlier this month. People could provide samples in classrooms and airports, churches and dinner parties, and even at home, Albrecht said.
New COVID-19 cases and deaths have begun to fall in the state over the last month. Public health officials say data from municipalities that have implemented mask orders since the beginning of the summer show the masks have helped slow the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, health officials announced 940,948 tests have been conducted in the state since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. The Department of Health and Control reported 691 new confirmed cases and 47 additional deaths. The state has now totaled 106,574 confirmed cases, and 2,230 South Carolinians have died of COVID-19 so far.
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