Rutgers saliva-based Covid test could be key to unlocking New Jersey economy

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Brian Strom, Chancellor of Rutgers' Biomedical and Health Sciences | Pool photo by Rich Hundley / The Trentonian

Brian Strom, Chancellor of Rutgers’ Biomedical and Health Sciences | Pool photo by Rich Hundley / The Trentonian

New Jersey officials hope that a saliva test developed by Rutgers University will soon allow tens of thousands of state residents to be tested for coronavirus every day.

The test, which was announced by President Donald Trump at a press conference late last week, could allow New Jersey to roughly triple its current daily testing capacity, potentially putting the state on the right path to lifting the elements of a home maintenance order has saved tens of thousands of lives at enormous economic cost.

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“Rapid return tests, contact tracking, then isolation and / or quarantine plan – these are the essential elements of the infrastructure that we will need before we can trust – and we can tell you that we have the confidence – start reopening our state, “said Murphy on Thursday in his daily coronavirus press briefing in Trenton.

“We know full well, including through the White House, that the Rutgers test protocol is being presented as a model not only in our state, but on a national scale,” he said.

The test, made available to the general public for the first time in a drive-thru service in Middlesex County earlier this month, may soon be able to provide results for up to 10,000 patients per day and within 24 or 48 hours of taking a sample. .

Rutgers lab could reach capacity in “a week or two,” Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom said at the briefing, adding that RUCDR Infinite Biologics, which developed the test, may soon be able to process up to 140,000 samples. per week.

At this rate, which would require more equipment and additional manpower, the Rutgers laboratory would roughly triple the state’s daily testing capacity, which Murphy set at 7,000 to 9,000 tests per day more early this week.

Murphy said that at a minimum, New Jersey should be able to test and process between 15,000 and 20,000 coronavirus tests each day before it can even consider lifting an executive order that closed most businesses retail and required that residents stay home whenever possible.

While swab coronavirus tests will still need to be used for healthcare providers and other frontline workers – these can provide results in minutes, rather than hours or days – testing based on the saliva “is at least as good as the traditional test and probably even better,” said Strom.

“We can extend it here,” in New Jersey, said Strom, adding that he hopes to export the technology to other states over time.

“It will be just as important to use elsewhere,” he said, “but we want to reserve our capacity for New Jersey and be able to help the state.”

Murphy administration officials plan to use the tests at five developmental centers for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have approximately 1,250 residents and 4,300 employees. Strom said the test has already been used in a handful of New Jersey municipalities and that Rutgers is working with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to test up to 100,000 residents in the state’s largest city.

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration granted RUCDR Infinite Biologics the first emergency use authorization for saliva testing. Yale University researchers discovered that the saliva-based collection method could replace nasopharyngeal swabs – which provide false negatives as often as 30% of the time and require more medical resources, including protective equipment individual – as the “gold standard” for rapid coronavirus testing.

This research has not been peer reviewed and, although the Rutgers test is promising, Murphy issued a cautionary note towards the end of his briefing when he stated that the state did not intend to publish a calendar for its reopening.

“It has been tinkered with every step of the way, from our partnerships with FEMA to now Rutgers and everything in between,” said Murphy of the state’s current testing regime. “I only say that to distinguish between what happened and what will happen. And we have not yet come to the conclusion of what our capabilities are and what “will” will look like. “

Nearly 100,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in New Jersey since March 4, and more than 5,300 people have died. While state testing capacity has increased since the earliest days of the pandemic, and now includes 86 sites across the state, Murphy described the test situation as a “patchwork patchwork” which was further complicated by laboratory delays, limited stocks of buffers and personal protective equipment and long queues for potential coronavirus patients with symptoms.

“We are not closing any path to testing, including continuing to search for other sources of material or other testing regimes,” said Murphy on Thursday. “It is up to us to seek out all the avenues available. “

Even if the state manages to expand its testing capacity in the days and weeks to come, it will also need to develop a small army of health professionals to seek the contacts of those who test positive as a measure to prevent future epidemics. .

“The most difficult thing is the contact tracing methodology,” said state health commissioner Judith Persichilli during the briefing on Thursday. “We met this morning on this, and we should hopefully have a glimpse next week of how we expect to approach this, then fill in the blanks for how to get the contact tracers.

“I don’t think I am revealing secret information,” she said. “We need 81 contact tracers per 100,000 inhabitants. So you can understand that if we do tests for everyone. “

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