The NBA has pressed forward with its season by ushering in unprecedented safety precautions. Now, it seems like the Food and Drug Administration is looking to capitalize on the NBA's success by issuing an emergency authorization for the league's saliva-based COVID-19 test.
According to ESPN, the FDA issued this authorization on Saturday and will allow the public to use the test that was developed at Yale University. This new method of testing was made possible through research funded by more than $500,000 donated to Yale from the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.
The SalivaDirect test was created for widespread public screening and can be done for as cheap as $4 per sample (although customers will likely pay close to $20). Yale administered the saliva test to a group that included NBA players and staff in April as the league prepared to restart the season. The SalivaDirect results were compared to nasal swab tests from the same group and were almost identical.
This emergency authorization could dramatically change the way people are tested for COVID-19. Currently, the leading saliva test costs individual consumers up to $150. Not only is it more cost-efficient, but it would also generate results quicker. The current test was developed at Rutgers University and can return results in 24-48 hours. For the Yale tests, subjects would just spit a small sample of saliva into a tube and would have their results in just a few hours.
The reason the Yale test is less expensive and faster because it bypasses the process of removing RNA from the samples. Per an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale, Nathan Grubaugh, extraction makes for a clearer result, but it's often unnecessary to prove one has the virus.
"(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," he explained. Grubaugh goes on to say that this test may have been funded by the NBA, but the goal isn't to keep the technology exclusive from the general public.
"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?"