This week, the University of Virginia is launching a coronavirus screening program, Be SAFE, that relies on saliva samples to quickly test for the virus.
The program, intended for students, supplements other testing efforts to help identify those infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to slow the spread of the virus on Grounds.
Students will be notified by email if they have been selected for random testing, and should proceed to a screening location on Grounds. Currently, one screening location, the Rotunda Multipurpose Room, is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Other screening locations will be available soon.
The saliva screenings are mandatory for those selected, free of charge, and take only 3 to 5 minutes to give a sample. Test results are expected within one business day during the initial phase of testing. Before the end of the fall semester, the University hopes to ramp up screenings to screen all students weekly and drive down the turnaround time to six hours.
“We have been taking a multi-pronged approach with our testing so that we make sure to catch and stop potential outbreaks in our community,” UVA Provost Liz Magill said. “Our first priority is to keep everyone healthy and safe, and we believe these rapid tests will help us meet that goal.”
“The saliva screening test provides us a highly effective and reliable method of rapidly testing students, identifying those carrying the virus, and taking actions to prevent further spreading of the virus in our population,” Dr. Hui Li, associate professor of pathology, said. “Our preliminary results from validation studies indicate that the test is quite sensitive and correlates well with the nasal swab test, which gives us great confidence in adding this to our set of tools in fighting the pandemic.”
The Be SAFE program supplements testing efforts already in place to detect asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 cases, including testing for symptomatic students, faculty or staff via Student Health or Employee Health; prevalence testing using nasal swabs; free self-testing kits for faculty, staff and contract workers; asymptomatic testing appointments for Medical Center and University Physicians Group employees; and wastewater analysis at residence halls.
For the new saliva program, each student must bring their student ID card to be scanned, and should refrain from eating, drinking, brushing teeth, using mouthwash, chewing gum or using tobacco for at least one hour before submitting a saliva sample. All students should wear a face covering and practice social distancing while waiting to provide a sample. The sample collection process consists of providing a sample of 2 to 5 milliliters of saliva in a test tube, closing the test tube securely with a screw cap, and dropping it off in a plastic bag.
“We’re proud that the University’s researchers, clinical laboratory personnel from the health system, and numerous staff all across UVA from facilities to student services have been able to work together to offer this rapid saliva testing to our students,” Melur “Ram” Ramasubramanian, vice president for research, said. “This is only possible because of the dedication and sacrifice by many people determined to preserve the in-person experience for our students to the maximum extent possible, safely. It has truly been a team effort.”
More information about the Be SAFE program is available at besafe.virginia.edu.