Santiam Hospital offers saliva test for Covid-19

March 2021 Posted in Your Health

By Mary Owen

Santiam Hospital introduces SalivaDirect, a less expensive, less invasive and safer way to test for COVID-19.

“It’s kind of remarkable that our little lab in Stayton, Oregon, is using this test,” said Dr. Janine VanSant, infectious disease specialist. “We are one of the few labs in the Pacific Northwest using it.”

Dr. Sarah Comstock, a molecular biologist from Corban University in Salem, got the ball rolling last April. In the spring of 2020, Comstock found herself with excess time due to few on-campus students, so she began to use her research equipment to develop an FDA EUA (emergency use authorization) test for coronavirus.

“She needed to perform in a CLIA High Complexity laboratory, which we have at Santiam,” said Darrell Mooers, program manager. “Sarah was successful in attaining FDA EUA in June 2020.”

After multiple hurdles to fully develop testing, Mooers was brought in mid-September to help keep the process moving forward. Mooers said Comstock found that Yale University had developed SalivaDirect, a test that had several advantages including the ability to run on Santiam Hospital laboratory equipment.

“To validate procedures and processes, we performed several hundred tests on our staff and close contacts prior to the Thanksgiving holiday,” he said. “After submission off all technical data, including our staff testing, we were granted approval to use SalivaDirect in late December.”

SalivaDirect offers a range of benefits over existing testing methods and continues to draw widespread attention from around the United States and many countries beyond. The new process developed at the Yale School of Public Health offers several advantages over traditional testing methods.

“SalivaDirect offers regular access to cheap and reliable testing,” VanSant said. Once available for everyone to use, she added, “It will be easier, so the person doesn’t have to go through the nasopharyngeal swab.”

Contrary to other testing methods, SalivaDirect is accurate and non-invasive, requiring only a small sample of saliva as opposed to the standard nasopharyngeal swab. The NP method requires using a long cotton-tipped swab that is inserted deep into the nostril and then rotated. The new process is quicker, basically requiring people to spit into a small container, and reduces risk of exposure to health care workers giving the test.

Currently, Santiam Hospital continues to test staff on a weekly basis as well as at students and athletes from Cascade Collegiate Conference universities in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, Mooers said.

“We also provide some testing for affiliates in Montana,” he added. “We’re running about 1,000 tests per week for student athletes who need a negative test before competing against other schools.

“We have offered this testing to all of our K-12 school systems,” he said. “They have chosen not to do that at present time, but we are still open to them. Recently the Indian Health Services at the federal level reached out to us to provide testing for regional tribal health centers.”.

The hospital’s travel medicine clinic is exploring using the test for out-of-country travelers who are required to test negative within 3 days prior to travel, VanSant said.

The Oregon Health Authority recently approached Santiam Hospital to become the regional coordinator for SalivaDirect testing, Mooers said.

“We’re taking the leadership role in trying to get lab and community testing partners to figure out how best to coordinate these groups,” VanSant said. “There is a potential to offer mail-in testing for the whole region.”

Future steps are to expand testing for travel, provide faster, cheaper testing option for local physician offices, provide testing for regional Tribal health centers, and provide testing for other at-risk populations.

“The goal is to offer testing to the broader community,” Mooers said. “We want to make information reportable in such a way that people don’t have to be in our system.”

For more information, contact Santiam Hospital at 503-769-9213.

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