Launched in spring 2021, the noninvasive COVID-19 saliva testing program is continuing for the 2021–22 academic year. Following a very successful on-campus semester of low COVID numbers and high levels of student activities, the COVID Steering Committee recommended the renewed use of weekly surveillance testing for all unvaccinated students, with the option for vaccinated students to join the program.
The pooled testing model that the University uses has a high level of accuracy in identifying SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and has been proven not only to be extremely cost-effective but also successful in mitigating campus outbreaks.
Samples are run in batches of 5-10 through a machine that provides real-time RT-qPCR (reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction) data, and positive samples are flagged to be run again for consistent results. Students are notified when their sample is flagged positive and they take a confirmatory diagnostic test through Health Services.
Last spring, the University ran more than 43,000 samples from all residential students, as well as faculty and staff who opted in to the program. Olivet’s testing system blended elements of the FDA-authorized Yale SalivaDirect protocol and research developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“This was a collaborative effort that extended much farther than the biology department,” said Dr. Dan Sharda, associate professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. “We’re on the front line of cutting-edge approaches and doing it with a high degree of success. This is a great example of why research and scholarship are so important.”
Dr. Greg Long ’84 and Dr. Nick Troendle provided leadership in the lab, overseeing a team of faculty and students who processed the saliva tests four days per week. This fall, the team will run tests three days per week to spread the load out.
The success of Olivet’s unique program has been nationally recognized through a peer-reviewed publishing process this fall. Dr. Sharda and Dr. Nicole Vander Schaaf spent the summer writing an original research article about the effectiveness and efficiency of Olivet’s program and submitted the final report for review at the beginning of the fall.
Dr. Vander Schaaf was quick to also mention the spirit of collaboration regarding the success of the research.
“Some of the data in our paper was only possible thanks to COVID-19-positive students who completed our research survey, which included details regarding what symptoms they experienced, when their symptoms started, if their diagnostic test results agreed with our saliva testing results, etc.”
The report explains the methodology of the testing system and includes both qualitative and quantitative data based on test results, as well as data from an Institutional Review Board-approved survey of students who tested positive. These holistic data measures are crucial in developing well-rounded research that will hopefully contribute to further advances in testing capabilities at the University and throughout the country.
For more information about changes to campus operations visit Olivet.edu/update.