Cal Poly’s saliva-based COVID-19 testing opens today, Feb. 18, at Poly Canyon Village (PCV) and is expected to become the University’s sole testing method on Feb. 25, according to a campus-wide email.
The transition will happen on Feb. 18 at the PCV testing site and on Feb. 25 at the Performing Arts Center (PAC).
Nasal swab testing will continue to be available to students at the PAC from Feb. 18 to Feb. 24. Starting on Feb. 25, all students are expected to only use saliva testing as part of Cal Poly’s ongoing COVID-19 testing program.
“The university is implementing the program because it is faster, more efficient and more accurate than nasal swab testing and will allow us to administer significantly more asymptomatic tests — strengthening our ongoing effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our campus and local communities,” University Spokesperson Matt Lazier said in an email.
This new test was developed and implemented by Cal Poly faculty and staff and supported by existing COVID protocols according to Lazier.
Saliva testing is non-invasive because it does not use swabs.
“The big win is simplicity of the method and participant experience which is much easier and quicker compared to a swab,” Lazier said.
The PCV and PAC testing sites will conduct saliva tests, which will be transported to the Cal Poly SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance PCR Testing Lab for analysis. Each “suspected positive” sample is retested to confirm its result, according to Lazier.
“The test yields a much quicker turnaround time because our lab is on campus,” Lazier said. “Avellino tests are shipped to the Bay Area and take at least 48 hours from the time it gets to their lab. Ours will be less than 24 hours.”
Instead of Avellino Labs 48-72 hour results, Cal Poly’s testing lab will contact students within 24 hours if their COVID test comes back positive. If a student’s test comes back negative, they will not be contacted, following the same guidelines as the previous testing methods.
Students who have in-person classes on campus are required to use saliva testing after Feb. 25, according to the campus-wide email. This test is still free for Cal Poly students.
Currently, this new method of testing is only open to students. Faculty and staff must continue with nasal swab testing through Avellino Labs at the PAC while the new saliva test program rolls out for students. There is no set date for when employees will be able to utilize saliva testing, according to Lazier.
Cal Poly SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance PCR Testing Lab uses reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), which is a “gold standard” for testing procedures, according to the email.
RT-qPCR testing is the most accurate method because it can detect rare transcripts and small gene expression variations that provide more reliable results for COVID testing.
“This program is at least as accurate as other PCR-based tests, with sensitivity and specificity well into the 90% range,” Lazier said.
This transition in COVID testing comes after a string of false positives from a technician error at Avellino Labs.
“The performance characteristics of the saliva test are excellent, meaning that the chance of false positives and false negatives are very low and are comparable to other PCR-based tests,” Lazier said. “However, it should be noted that no test is 100% sensitive and specific.”
This change in testing includes a shift in the procedure: a six-digit registration ID obtained through an online survey, a Cal Poly ID and a green campus pass on a phone or other device are needed to receive a test.