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ADHS partners with ASU to provide saliva-based COVID-19 testing

ADHS commits up to $12.7 million toward expanded testing in underserved communities using a new saliva-based test

coronavirus ASU SP.jpg

Graphic published on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

ASU has agreed to a new partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services to provide saliva-based COVID-19 tests throughout the state, Gov. Doug Ducey announced at a press conference Thursday.

Beginning on July 11 in the West Valley, ASU will "launch several testing sites that will provide free saliva diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in high-need underserved communities around the state" using their new test developed in May by ASU’s Biodesign Institute, according to a press release. 

The test requires an individual to simply spit into a straw and test tube, which provides an easy, quick and still reliable way to test people for the coronavirus. The University has been offering this form of testing to both ASU community members and to critical workers throughout the state since its development.

READ MORE: Biodesign Institute develops new COVID-19 saliva test

"Through this partnership, ADHS has committed up to $12.7 million to fund the expansion of testing sites to serve up to 100,000 Arizonans," the release said. 

Tests will be by appointment only and the University "is working with ADHS on details related to future testing sites around the state," the release said.

ASU promises a 48-hour turnaround for testing results due to the automation the University has in place to test the saliva samples, Joshua LaBaer, the director of the Biodesign Institute said in a media briefing Wednesday.

“You don't even need trained medical personnel to collect these samples,” LaBaer said in the briefing. "People can collect them on their own just by spitting through a straw into a tube. So it's much less expensive to collect these samples, and it has the same sensitivity (as nasopharyngeal swabs), because it's the same chemistry."

Thursday morning, ADHS confirmed 4,057 newly reported COVID-19 cases in Arizona, resulting in a total of 112,671 confirmed cases in the state. The state also passed 2,000 reported deaths Thursday, according to the ADHS.

Data from the Biodesign critical COVID-19 trends page shows that over the past 14 days, the state has seen around a 25% positive testing rate of the coronavirus over a seven-day period.

Beginning in late May, Arizona began to see exponential growth of confirmed cases. The amount of newly reported cases each day has leveled off slightly over the past week, but cases continue to steadily rise.

Since June 17, there have been about 10,000 people tested daily for the coronavirus in Arizona, according to the The COVID-19 Tracking Project. However, receiving the results of those tests can take up to a week or longer due to a backlogging of testing, The Arizona Republic reported

 "We are excited to partner with Arizona State University to launch this new testing program that will increase our capacity to test more people for COVID-19," said Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS director. "Testing is an important public health tool to help us track COVID-19 and to implement mitigation strategies to slow the spread of the disease in Arizona and over the last several months we have been working with partners across the state to increase COVID-19 testing."

Ducey said the state is planning to expand COVID-19 tests to 35,000 per day by the end of July, and increase that to 60,000 by the end of August.

LaBaer has said in recent media briefings that the time it takes to report positive cases is not good. Without rapid results, people who have the virus, but may be asymptomatic, could continue to go out and spread the virus due to them not knowing they are carriers.

To help quickly get test results to the state and those tested for COVID-19, ASU has also developed a “secure HIPAA-compliant data management system to collect basic patient information, integrate this with test results and deliver the results back to partners” the Biodesign COVID-19 Saliva Testing page said. The site has two portals, one for participants and another for administrators who conduct the testing. 

Participants can set up an account where they can then schedule an appointment and are provided a barcode to help keep track of the results. Once they are tested, the system will notify both the individual, the state and federal government when their results are ready, LaBaer said.

According to LaBaer, at the testing site people can collect their own saliva-based sample and return it to those administering the testing who then ensure it is a good sample. The barcode assigned to the person and the test tube are then scanned to keep track of the results in the system.

“It is the university’s commitment to be of service to the citizens of the state of Arizona in any way we can as we all work together to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said ASU President Michael Crow in the press release. “We are fortunate to have some extremely talented people at the university who have developed an innovative testing model and it is our duty to share that expertise and put it to work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.” 

Labaer said that Biodesign is currently expanding the automation used to test the samples to so that they can continue to quickly get results to individuals.

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods tested positive for the coronavirus using one of Biodesign's saliva-based tests the same week he was sworn into office. In an interview with The State Press, Woods said that he supports making the test more widely available.

READ MORE:  Tempe mayor wants a statewide mask mandate

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Wyatt MyskowProject Manager

Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.

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