Rutgers University received the federal go-ahead for an at-home, self-administered version of its COVID-19 saliva test, which Gov. Phil Murphy has argued could be integral to dramatically scaling up the state’s testing capabilities.
The Friday emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration means that testing can be done without physically going to one of the state’s testing centers, allowing sorely needed medical staff and personal protective equipment to be diverted elsewhere.
FDA officials did not immediately return requests for comment.
“We can now preserve precious PPE for use in patient care instead of testing and can significantly increase the number of people collected each and every day in places other than a health care setting,” reads a Friday statement from Andrew Brooks, head of technology development at RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which developed the test.
“This will enable testing for people that do not have the means to get to a collection center and … are at home because they are sick, quarantined, at increased risk for infection or simply concerned about exposing themselves by traveling to a collection site,” Brooks added.
The saliva-based test relies on a very small amount of saliva “spit into a cup,” and the turnaround for results for the projected 10,000 daily tests would be 24 to 48 hours, according to Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom.
“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 on April 23 at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
Murphy announced on that day that the test would be administered to 1,250 residents and 4,300 staff at five developmental centers across the state.
Strom said the test was also being provided at University Hospital, RWJBarnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Atlantic Health System and other hospitals, and various drive-through testing sites across the state. It was first offered as a limited pilot program between Rutgers University and Middlesex County for local residents.
“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,” the governor added.
The current nasal swab testing is far more invasive, but the test – offered to health care workers and other front line personnel – could get results in a matter of minutes.
“That will be a huge welcome relief to those who have had to go through the process of getting that thing stuck up their nose into the front lobe of their brain,” Murphy said of the saliva test.
One of the achievements for significantly lifting the state’s heavy restrictions is to ramp up testing – at least doubling the daily number – which Murphy said could be achieved by the end of May. And once restrictions are lifted, the state would need to have testing and health care infrastructure in place to handle an widely expected second wave of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
By the latest count, the state offers between 7,000 and 9,000 tests a day, and Murphy wants to see that daily number reach at least 20,000.
On May 1, Murphy announced that the Trump administration was sending New Jersey 550,000 COVID-19 test kits and 750,000 swabs.
Details on that testing infrastructure will be announced in the coming days, Murphy said throughout this week.