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Covid-19 Testing And Virus Monitoring

Louisiana State University

It’s becoming increasingly clear our era will be defined by a fundamental split: the period before COVID-19, and the new normal that will emerge in the post-viral era. Physical distancing and total lockdowns may not be enough to push us into our new normal. Testing remains a critical component to overcoming the coronavirus. 

LSU Professors Stephania Cormier, a respiratory immunologist, and Rebecca Christofferson, an emerging viruses expert, developed a saliva-based test to help track COVID-19 in K-12 school children and teachers in Baton Rouge.

This initiative was mentioned at congressional hearings where Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir, MD testified that such programs are part of the robust surveillance system needed to track COVID-19. 

So why is the role of testing vital in moving us forward to a path of normalcy?
Understanding the impacts of the virus on communities will be nearly impossible without measurable information, which comes from reporting the number of positive cases. And in the bigger public health picture, testing is crucial to mitigation efforts. It helps researchers characterize frequency, spread, and contagiousness.

Nasopharyngeal swabs deep into the nasal cavity are considered the gold standard for many respiratory disease tests. Rarely, however, have they been used on the scale required to continuously test broad populations for something like COVID-19. When the current pandemic started, most established and federally approved testing methods in hospitals, clinics, and labs relied on nasopharyngeal swabs, which, other than the discomfort, come with a few additional caveats—the tests should be administered by healthcare professionals, require a viral or universal transport medium (VTM or UTM) for storage and transport, and frequently make subjects sneeze or cough, which is one of the reasons healthcare workers need to wear full protective gear to take samples. Saliva-based tests, meanwhile, come with fewer disadvantages.

But what if you aren’t showing symptoms—should you still get tested?
Expanding testing to asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases is particularly important, given the delay in the onset of symptoms and the chance of spreading the virus to vulnerable individuals. Testing asymptomatic patients enables public health officials and epidemiologists to collect more accurate data about COVID-19, in addition to identifying and monitoring infected populations.

Special thanks to Dr. Stephania Cormier in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences.

Find for more information on LSU's saliva-based test research here.