U-M shifts to saliva-based surveillance testing for COVID-19

Getting tested for COVID-19 on the University of Michigan campus is getting faster and more convenient as its surveillance program shifts to using a saliva-based collection method to increase testing capacity to 6,000 people weekly.

In addition to changing the type of test used for asymptomatic testing through the COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program, U-M has streamlined the sign-up process and will expand campus testing locations for students, faculty and staff on the Ann Arbor campus.

By using a saliva-based collection method instead of a nasal swab, U-M will increase program capacity to test up to 6,000 individuals per week by the end of October. Currently, the CSTP has achieved a weekly testing rate of 1,200 individuals based on the number of participants enrolled, but there remains unused capacity to test up to 3,000, officials report.

Those already signed up for the current testing program must update their registration to be eligible for the new test.

“The changes to the program allow us to offer more testing to those on campus without symptoms through an easier, more convenient process without having to schedule in advance,” said Emily Martin, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, who is leading the program.

“Even though our nasal swabs are not the deep, more irritating kind, some people might find this saliva method to be even more comfortable.”

In this video, Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani updates the U-M community about COVID-19 on campus, including the shift to saliva-based surveillance testing under the Community Sampling and Tracking Program.

The new saliva-based test is being offered through the U-M startup company LynxDx in partnership with University Health Service. Nasal swab collection for the program will be phased out over the next few weeks. During that time participants will be offered either method for their test.

Separately, UHS — which is open seven days per week and has the capacity to perform more than 1,500 tests weekly — has improved access and convenience of COVID-19 testing, and continues to explore additional opportunities.

Those with mild symptoms and casual exposure, and students who need testing for a job requirement or upcoming international travel, can now be tested at UHS. In addition, students will soon be able to self-schedule COVID-19 tests online through their patient portal.

“As this pandemic continues to evolve, so do our services,” said Lindsey Mortenson, acting executive director at UHS. “We continue to adapt and learn from our patients, who are telling us that access and convenience are paramount. In addition to pop-up testing and testing students in quarantine housing, we are working closely with the CSTP and other campus partners to expand access to testing across campus.”

The Community Sampling and Tracking Program is open to students living on or off campus, as well as faculty and staff who work in-person on the Ann Arbor campus. Participants are directed after sign-up to report to one of the open sampling stations at Palmer Commons on a predetermined date and time frame to complete their test.

Photo of President Mark Schlissel preparing to take a saliva-based COVID-19 test.
President Mark Schlissel prepares to take a saliva-based COVID-19 test at Palmer Commons as part of U-M’s Community Sampling and Tracking Program. (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)

The CSTP also will bring testing directly to the community at pre-arranged locations in Michigan Housing and other facilities across campus. Additional details on expanded locations will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Using this new system, we can bring testing events directly to residence halls with flexible scheduling. We are also meeting with student leaders to learn about other ways that we can work to make testing as convenient and accessible as we can,” Martin said.

Program participants will be directed not to eat or drink within 30 minutes of their test time. To collect the specimen, individuals will need to produce an amount of saliva into a collection tube, then turn in their sample at the testing location. Results will be available in 48-72 hours, the same time frame as current testing.

With the change from Michigan Medicine to LynxDx performing the tests, participants no longer need to register in the MyUofMHealth patient portal for CSTP tests. Results will be emailed and texted to program participants. Individuals with a positive test result will be contacted by UHS or Occupational Health Services for follow-up and instructions on next steps.

“Our transition between the systems may mean a brief dip in testing numbers for CSTP. We are hopeful that increased convenience will lead to higher testing numbers in the coming weeks,” Martin said. “CSTP is an important source of data on infections that we might not otherwise find. If you are invited to come in for a test, it is important to come by a testing location for your test in the next few days.”

Participants will continue to be asked to show their ResponsiBLUE health tracker results prior to testing.

Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or those who have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive will not be tested as part of this surveillance program. People who have previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 should not enroll.

The program is not a replacement for symptomatic testing or medical care. Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or a close-contact exposure should contact Occupational Health Services for faculty and staff, or University Health Service for students.

In addition, everyday actions to help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses include:

  • Wear a face covering.
  • Practice social distancing of 6 feet.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid close contact, especially with those who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects

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