Canadians in several provinces face long lines for a swab to help diagnose COVID-19 as school and workplaces open. While new testing technologies could help, doctors say they won’t be a silver bullet.
The gold standard swab of the nose or throat can be uncomfortable. In contrast, a key promise of saliva tests is that people could collect saliva themselves so that fewer nurses and other health professionals would be needed at assessment centres, as staffing is one of the factors that can drive up wait times. But that ideal won’t happen immediately. Currently in Canada, both saliva collection and testing remain a research project that regulators are closely evaluating.
There are three main barriers to overcome before saliva tests roll out widely. Gobs of saliva vary in how fluid they can be, so collecting a high-quality sample can be a challenge even for something as non-invasive as spitting into a cup. The next hurdle for scientists is to get accurate and consistent results on the presence of the virus. Finally, clinicians need to determine how well the test results help them to correctly identify those with the disease.
On Thursday, British Columbia announced it’s introducing a new mouth rinse, gargle and spit test for students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to make it easier for children and teenagers to check whether they have COVID-19. But this new test is only offered to school-age kids, and only in B.C.