NJ moves forward with saliva testing for coronavirus

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New Jersey is rolling out saliva testing that if successful could be the catalyst for lifting statewide restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic but also be a broader fix for the entire country.

A pilot version of the test — developed by Rutgers University — was made available at some drive-thru testing centers through the state last week and has been used on first responders in Newark, as the governor tries to ramp up testing for those on the front lines of the virus.

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Gov. Phil Murphy said the testing will now be used at five state developmental centers starting next week.

“This is a total of more than 5,500 tests – more than 1,200 residents, and in excess of 4,300 staff,” Murphy said.

Increased testing statewide, including of people who are asymptomatic, is a crucial aspect of the governor’s plan to reopen New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states by the coronavirus.

“Rapid return testing, contact tracing and then a plan for isolation and/or quarantine — those are the essential elements of the infrastructure that we’re going to need before you have the confidence — and we can tell you we’ve got the confidence — to begin to reopen our state,” Murphy said.

As of Thursday, 5,368 people in the state have died and 99,989 others are infected.

Still, health officials are hopeful that the saliva-based testing will deliver results with quicker turnaround time and decrease the number of medical devices needed to administer the test by 90 percent– a plus since these devices have been in shortage since the start of the pandemic.

Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences chancellor Dr. Brian Strom said Thursday that “the saliva-based test actually looks like it performs better than the normal testing,” which requires a swab from the nose.

Strom also added that up to 10,000 tests can be done a day as the testing capabilities expand.

“We know this for a fact, including through the White House, that the Rutgers test protocol is being held up as a model not just in our state, but nationally,” Murphy said.

Strom said additional equipment and personnel would be needed to administer the tests and expand the state’s daily testing capacity threefold.

Another hurdle aside from testing is developing an accurate and efficient contact tracking methodology effective enough to monitor the spread of the virus, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Thursday.

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“We met this morning on this, and we should have an outline, I hope, next week on how we expect to approach this and then fill in the blanks for how we get the contact tracers,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m revealing any information that’s secret. We need 81 contact tracers for every 100,000 population. So you can figure that out if we do testing for everyone,” Persichilli added.