USC adding take-home COVID-19 tests this week

The take-home tests build on the saliva-based collection model, bringing new benefits of cost, efficiency, ease and accuracy.

USC Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman announced Feb. 11 that the university plans to roll-out take-home COVID-19 tests this week for students, faculty and staff. The process, per Van Orman, works like this:

Students pick up their collection tube, perform the test at home by filling up a ring finger-sized tube with saliva, then drop it off at a testing site within a 12-hour window of collection. When the tube is dropped off, a new one is picked up to ensure students always have a test on hand. The university requires undergraduate students get tested twice a week in order to go on campus.

The take-home tests follow the same saliva-based collection model that USC Student Health currently uses at its sites. USC transitioned to the saliva-based COVID-19 test in the spring 2021 semester, because it is cheaper, faster and more accurate. In comparison to the nasal-based collection, Dr. Van Orman said the saliva-based test allows PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing to be run in-house, providing a quick turnaround rate. USC currently returns test results in 12-24 hours as opposed to the 36-48 hour turnaround rate from the nasal-swab collection last semester. This provides students with faster results, which can reduce transmission by isolating positive cases sooner and potentially save lives.

The saliva-based collection offers less likelihood to receive a failed test or false results, according to Van Orman.

Students offered mixed reviews about the university’s move to saliva-based testing.

Jerald Mendoza, a junior Political Science student, said the new test is “more tedious and can take me up to 10-15 minutes to complete.’'

At the testing sites, you can find visibly frustrated students mustering up enough saliva to fill up the tube. With the collection dependent on the patient’s ability to produce enough saliva, testing time is unpredictable — a factor now removed with the addition of take-home tests.

Still, students recognize the benefits of the new collection method.

Johannah Suegay, a junior Communication and Marketing student said although she prefers the efficiency of the nasal testing, she also values the safety of the staff members.

The saliva-based test provides more protection to the health care workers administering the collection since patients conduct the test themselves. The nasal-based collection requires external health care personnel to perform the test.

To make the most of a saliva-based test, set an alarm 30-minutes prior to the test as a reminder not to eat or drink – including water. If particles of food are found in a sample, the student is required to redo the test at another time.