Oklahoma may use saliva-based COVID tests for college students

Pawhuska Journal-Capital
A mask is put on the statue of former University of Oklahoma president George Lynn Cross on campus in Norman, Okla. on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. The state is exploring using saliva-based COVID tests on college campuses.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration may be exploring using saliva tests to determine whether Oklahoma students have contracted COVID-19.

In an Aug. 17 letter to the chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Stitt mentioned plans for Oklahoma to conduct saliva testing at universities and schools. The limited testing option allows a saliva sample to be used instead of an invasive nose swab.

Stitt’s letter to U.S. Rep James Clyburn, the committee's chairman, followed the governor’s meeting with White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx.

“She was encouraged by Oklahoma’s sentinel surveillance testing strategy and (said) that our plan to use saliva testing in university or school settings was innovative and one that should be shared with other states,” Stitt wrote.

But the governor’s letter was light on details of when and where saliva testing may be implemented. A Stitt spokesman referred questions to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the agency has not developed a college-specific testing plan, and pointed to campus-specific proposals crafted by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

But questions about the state exploring saliva testing for college students or those in K-12 schools went unanswered last week.

In the spring, state officials announced plans to use saliva tests, processed through OSU’s diagnostics lab and a partner lab in Texas, to test all nursing home residents and staff for COVID-19. The testing blitz occurred, but the saliva testing has been held up as OSU awaits federal authorization.

A spokeswoman for the State Department of Health recently told Public Radio Tulsa approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could be mere weeks away.

Although other universities, such as Rutgers and Yale, have received FDA approval for saliva testing, OSU’s process is slightly different and requires separate approval.

When the FDA approved Rutgers for saliva testing, they allowed for at-home collection, which could factor into why state officials think saliva tests be a good fit for college students.

Before the fall semester started, OU sent self-administered COVID-19 tests to the more than 5,000 students planning to live in on-campus apartments and residence halls. The students were required to take the tests before returning to campus.