Covid 19 coronavirus: Saliva tests rolled out to staff at New Zealand’s largest aged care provider

New Zealand’s largest aged care provider is teaming up with scientists to help discover the effectiveness of saliva tests to detect Covid-19.

Staff at Ryman Healthcare are being offered voluntary saliva tests following the recent emergence of community cases of Covid-19 in Auckland.

Ryman, which has retirement villages and rest homes across the country, has contracted Hill Laboratories to carry out the testing.

Ryman chief operations officer Cheyne Chalmers said being able to test staff quickly, accurately and efficiently was an important extra safeguard for the aged care provider.

“We want to do everything we can to keep the virus out.

“Being able to test ourselves with the help of the Hill Laboratories team means we can support the Government testing programme and help speed up the testing process which is reassuring for both our residents, and our team.

Hill Laboratories developed the saliva test for use in aged care last year.

During the first lockdown in March/April 2020 aged care operators, including Ryman, approached the Hill team for assistance with testing because of difficulties in getting access to tests.

While no testing was performed at that time, the Ryman and the Hill team continued working together in the months since then.

Hill chief executive Dr Jonathan Hill said his team developed and validated a method for testing Covid-19 in saliva samples in August last year.

More recently, Hill Laboratories has implemented the ‘SalivaDirect’ test, which was developed and published by the Yale School of Public Health, with the US FDA granting this methodology Emergency Use Authorisation on August 15, 2020.

“While roughly equivalent in terms of accuracy and sensitivity to the current nasopharyngeal swab PCR methodology being widely employed in New Zealand, the primary advantage of the new SalivaDirect methodology is that it tests saliva, rather than nasopharyngeal swabs,” Hill said.

He said sample collection was non-invasive and people could test themselves by spitting into a pottle without the requirement for trained sample collection personnel wearing PPE.

The SalivaDirect test is also a simple test, so the cost is considerably lower, making it more feasible to be used by companies for the purpose of proactive screening of asymptomatic people in high-risk environments.

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