Hundreds of UofSC students turn up for COVID-19 saliva testing

Hundreds of UofSC students turn up for COVID-19 saliva testing
(Source: Emily Wakeman)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Today the University of South Carolina rolled out its COVID-19 saliva testing site, which is free to all students, faculty, and staff on the Columbia campus.

UofSC officials said the SAFE test, which stands for Saliva Assay Free Expedited, is a non-invasive alternative to nasal swabs and can get results back in 24 hours.

Hundreds of students came out to the Davis Field on Wednesday for the saliva test. With no appointments necessary, students stopped by, spit in a cup, and went on with their day. Many students getting tested said it was quick and easy.

“It was free so we decided we might as well, to try to keep everyone safe,” Lindsey Bonk, a U of SC sophomore said.

The Dean of the College of Pharmacy Stephen Cutler said it’s just the beginning, with their ability to test thousands of students each week. The new testing measure is something Cutler says is key to welcoming students back to campus.

“If we can identify those individuals that are asymptomatic that are infected or those individuals that are early so are pre-symptomatic then we can begin working on isolating them and containing the virus and reducing the spread among the community,” Cutler said.

Cutler said they can test 1,200 students a day and hope to work up to 3000 to 4000 students a day.

“We encourage people to test as frequently and often as they’d like,” Cutler said.

Each test costs the university about $10, but he said the benefit far exceeds the price.

“It’s worth it not just for welcoming students back but for us to have a very good understanding of what the virus looks like at the university of south Carolina,” Cutler said.

Officials said that the university is one of a handful of schools nationwide approved by the FDA to use saliva testing for diagnostic purposes. The SAFE test works by identifying genetic material unique to the COVID-19 virus through a single saliva sample.

The project led by the UofSC’s College of Pharmacy, received clearance last week from the Federal Drug Administration to begin the testing through its CLIA certified lab. However, final FDA approval is pending.

The SAFE test was developed by College of Pharmacy researchers. Successful collaboration with the university’s COVID-19 planning team and West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation supported the rollout to the university community. Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation donated 50,000 sample tubes to the project as well as a sophisticated robot used for automated sample processing.

“So we know that we will be able to test our students and be able to put them in isolation or quarantine and control any spike we might see on our campus over the next several months,” Debbie Beck, Executive Director of Student Health Services, said

Cutler said they began developing the test in February and received clearance last week from the FDA. The saliva testing will be going on at Davis Field II for the rest of the week and Cutler said they plan to offer this testing every day at various locations for the rest of the year.

This week, walk-up testing will be available August 19th through August 21 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Davis Field II. In the case of inclement weather, the location will be moved to 650 Lincoln.

On August 24, testing will be available on the following schedule:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday and Thursday from noon until 4 p.m. at 650 Lincoln

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