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Saliva-based COVID-19 test gets FDA authorization; could be game-changer for sports

A new saliva-based test could be the savior that sports needs.

Houston v Kentucky Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The U.S. FDA has authorized an emergency coronavirus test that is saliva-based and being funded by the NBA and the NBA Players Association, per Zach Lowe of ESPN.

The test was developed by Yale University and is designed for widespread screening and the cost for consumers could be between $15-$20, which is a significant drop off from the $60-$70 saliva test developed by Rutgers University, which plenty of professional teams are still using.

“(The Yale test) loses a little bit of sensitivity, but what we gain is speed and that it should be up to 10 times cheaper,” Grubaugh said. The Yale test replaces the extraction step with the introduction of a reagent — chemicals mixed with the saliva sample — and a short heating process that releases the virus genome. The team found successful results using reagents that are commonly available, meaning labs everywhere could implement the Yale protocol, Grubaugh said. “My goal is not to test athletes,” Grubaugh said. “That’s not my target population. My target population is everybody. There were concerns about partnering with the NBA when all these other people need testing. But the simple answer ended up being the NBA was going to do all this testing anyway, so why not partner with them and try to create something for everyone?”

The potential for rapid-return, cheap and easy-to-administer saliva tests may have implications for the structure of the 2020-21 NBA season, sources said. Any return to normalcy — teams traveling to 28 home markets, the presence of even some token number of fans to offset revenue losses — is dependent on testing becoming easily available. This could be one step, experts said.

With the potential for extremely rapid result testing from an easier test, it would be a positive for sports going ahead this winter, since most of the fall sports have been canceled already.

With rapid results, players and teams can have more accurate and testing, even testing players up until game time to make sure that everyone is COVID-19 free before they take the court.

This has the potential to be a game-saver for upcoming sports seasons that haven’t been cancelled yet, namely college football in leagues like the SEC. It should also be very helpful to ensuring there’s a full college basketball season this winter and spring.

But more importantly, this could help save a lot of human lives, so here’s to hoping it’s a major success.