Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

SalivaDirect, a COVID-19 test pioneered at the Yale School of Public Health, is now being used at the New Haven Green and Long Wharf testing sites. Walk-in PCR testing is available at both locations all days except Friday, with results being available within 24-48 hours.

The saliva-based COVID-19 testing method was developed by Yale epidemiology researchers Anne Wyllie and Nathan Grubaugh. It received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 15. On Jan. 3, the state of Connecticut reached out to Yale School of Public Health officials looking to use the technology at testing sites in New Haven. While funding for the two New Haven SalivaDirect sites are provided by the state government, city officials are responsible for its operation. The Yale-developed saliva-based PCR tests were administered beginning Jan. 19.  

“Early and frequent testing is one of the cornerstones of how we’re responding to the pandemic,” New Haven’s Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro  said in an interview. “I’m so excited that it’s been developed in our community. And now it’s available to everyone in the community. I just applaud SalivaDirect and the Yale component of it.” 

Wyllie first began working on SalivaDirect in April 2020.  Compared to traditional nasal swabs used in COVID-19 tests, SalivaDirect provides a highly accurate, accessible and less invasive method to identify COVID-19. 

Saliva-based tests also are not required to be administered by trained medical personnel, making them an effective means of conducting community COVID-19 surveillance. 

“SalivaDirect is a PCR testing procedure that is a faster, easier, cheaper, and more user-friendly approach to COVID-19 screening and diagnosis,” Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten H. Vermund wrote in an email. “We are so pleased to see it available to the New Haven community.”

The tests, analyzed at Yale Pathology Labs, identified the first case of the Omicron variant in New Haven. The lab continues to genetically sequence approximately 30 percent of positive results to identify potential new strains of the COVID-19 virus, according to professor Chen Liu, the chief of pathology at Yale New Haven Hospital. During the Omicron surge, the lab was sequencing every sample collected. 

“What my team has done is stepped up to help manage and oversee these sites and serve as a sort of collection team for samples in the community,” Wyllie said. “So labs do their testing and collections and are responsible for that. My team is responsible at the moment for running the site, getting collection materials and getting the samples to YPL who does the testing.”

Her team continues to be involved in SalivaDirect as its usage expands into New Haven.  According to Rick Fontana, the director of emergency services for the city of New Haven, SalivaDirect is the fourth organization to provide testing at the Long Wharf and New Haven Green sites through a state program that has provided free PCR testing in Meriden, New Haven, Old Saybrook and Middletown for Connecticut residents. 

Prior to the partnership with SalivaDirect, Connecticut partnered with three organizations for testing in New Haven: Cambridge Innovation Center Health, Transformative Healthcare and Wren Laboratories. Fontana said that these three companies carried out traditional nasopharyngeal tests whereas SalivaDirect is a “more accessible” saliva test.

Wyllie’s team works closely with 166 labs across 41 states as SalivaDirect has grown. Although the testing method is free and open source, each lab has to be licensed and verified under SalivaDirect’s FDA emergency use authorization. Labs looking to use the technology must agree to report data to the SalivaDirect team and to the Food and Drug Administration. The labs are then responsible for administering and distributing tests in communities nationwide.

“We’re constantly meeting with labs and partner groups,” Wyllie said. “So it’s a no-cost license, but it’s just that they obviously have [FDA regulations] that they need to abide by.”

Liu estimated that approximately 165,000 tests have been administered to date. 

In New Haven, roughly 300 tests have been administered at the two SalivaDirect sites since Jan. 19. New Haven Director of Public Health Maritza Bond wrote that the centers have the capacity to carry out 1,000 tests per day.

“The new service demonstrated what collaboration between this city, state and university can look like,” Mayor Justin Elicker said. “And, what excites me most is the absence of a line at the facility right now, along with how the facility can expand capacity for the city. We saw during the last spike in demand just how vital it is that we continue to have the testing capacity.”

New Haven identified its first COVID-19 case on March 14, 2020. 

GIRI VISWANATHAN
YASH ROY
Yash Roy covers education & youth services in New Haven and is a P&D staffer. He is a first year in Timothy Dwight College and is from Princeton, NJ.