New Jersey’s state-run residential facilities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities will implement COVID-19 saliva-based testing developed by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.
Announced on Thursday by Gov. Phil Murphy and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom, the New Jersey Department of Human Services will utilize these tests as part of its strategy to do universal testing of all staff and residents at New Jersey’s five such developmental centers, which have approximately 1,250 residents and 4,300 staff.
The state is working to expand this pilot program and is exploring options to test additional state workers and individuals in the state’s care. According to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, as testing is expanded throughout the the state, prioritization will be placed on “the most vulnerable populations like those who reside in these centers.”
With this new testing, Strom said that 10,000 people can be tested per day and it is expandable in a modular fashion, whereby an additional 10,000 people can be tested.
“A robust and aggressive testing program is vital in order for us to protect our most vulnerable populations and contain future outbreaks of COVID-19,” Murphy said at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton. “Rutgers University’s FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]-approved saliva-based test system will significantly expand our testing capability by providing rapid results and the critical data necessary to determine when we can safely reopen New Jersey. I am grateful for our partnership with Rutgers University and incredibly proud of their innovative breakthrough to help New Jersey defeat this virus.”
Strom said that Rutgers has been tracking and anticipating the COVID-19 epidemic since early January and that there have been two separate FDA approved tests developed at Rutgers.
“Rutgers RUCDR’s new saliva-based test is a game-changer in terms of expanding testing nationwide and we’re awaiting FDA approval of the test for self-collection at home, which will only further increase the number of screenings. RUCDR’s research exemplifies the tremendous efforts of Rutgers health care professionals at all levels, from the lab to the frontlines of patient care,” said Strom.
“Our goal has been to use these tremendous capabilities in service of the stat,” he said. “Testing is the new lynchpin to begin to return to normalcy.”
The first FDA approved point of care test was developed in Newark at the New Jersey Medical School.
Strom explained that point of care means you don’t have to send the test out and wait a week or 10 days to get the results—you get the results back in 40 minutes. He said that it is ideal for use in an emergency room or a doctor’s office.
“Because you know the answer in 40 minutes, you know whether or not the patient in front of you has COVID-19,” said Strom.
The saliva test is being widely used across the state, including at the developmental centers. It is currently in use at University Hospital, RWJBarnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Atlantic Health System and other hospitals.
Strom said this test would be key when Rutgers opens its research labs and eventually classrooms.
He said that Rutgers New Brunswick also developed a high throughput testing for the virus that gives results within 24-48 hours.
“This approach, collecting the samples by saliva, decreases exposure to health care professionals, increases collection throughput [how quickly you can collect the specimen], quadrupling it. It also decreases the use of PPEs by 90 percent because you don’t need the PPEs in order to collect the specimen,” said Strom, citing a Yale University study showing the saliva-based test performs better than a normal test.
Saliva-based testing eliminates the need for swabs and viral transport media, which Strom said are the key limiting steps for most tests right now.
The test was piloted last week in Middlesex County and is currently being used in drive-thru testing sites in Edison, South Brunswick, Somerset, Deptford, and at The American Dream Mall, PBA testing sites, and among Newark first responders.
On Friday testing will take place at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and walk-ups will open next week in New Brunswick and Perth Amboy.
Camden County employees and 31 long-term care facilities in Camden County will start testing within the next two weeks.