Possible game-changer in reopening: Hospital launches COVID-19 saliva testing

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Mount Sinai Hospital in New York is launching a COVID-19 saliva-testing program that could prove to be a game-changer for reopening large-scale events.

The program was unveiled Monday and will offer "easy, effective and accurate COVID-19 test for the public" at four testing locations in Manhattan, according to Dr. David Reich, the hospital's president. He told ABC News that the saliva testing is "equal in accuracy to nasal swabs."

The test costs $139.50 and isn't covered by insurance.

"Our discussions with several of the major insurance companies indicate that insurance does not cover testing solely for the purpose of attending a leisure or entertainment event, or for travel," he said.

The test mainly will be used by those paying for the convenience of quickly being able to attend events such as professional sports or the theater, catering events through the state's Excelsior Pass app program, or taking an international flight, Reich added.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the Excelsior Pass program last month to confirm an individual's recent negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination, data that could be used to help venues reopen in accordance with state Department of Health guidelines. Venues that announced they'll use the app include Madison Square Garden and the Times Union Center.

Results from saliva tests should be available within 48 hours, but about 85% will be available within just 24 hours.

To take the test, patients can't eat or drink anything, brush or floss their teeth or use mouthwash, or smoke or chew gum for one hour prior. The test also can be administered to young children, who may find it more comfortable than a nasal swab.

The tests use the "same, highly accurate polymerase chain reaction technology" as PCR nasal-swab tests that detect the genetic material of the virus.

"I've been dying to go back to theater and just public events," said Reich, adding that these tests also will allow for larger catered events such as big weddings. "We think this is an excellent effort by the state to help reopen New York, and we're very pleased to be part of it."

Anne Wyllie, an associate research scientist in epidemiology at Yale University who helped develop the COVID-19 saliva testing program SalivaDirect, said this method is effective. SalivaDirect received emergency use authorization from the FDA in August and is being used in 36 states at universities and local schools.

She said she thinks testing will continue for the foreseeable future.

"We're already seeing what happens when people start going in thinking that vaccines are going to cure everything, and cases surge again," Wyllie said. "We have new variants, I think testing is definitely going to be a thing, at least for schools."

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