We pre-recorded our conversation today over Zoom with Robbie Kidd, Shenandoah University professor and Chair of Biopharmaceutical Sciences to talk about Shenandoah University’s Pooled Saliva Testing for Novel Coronavirus that will allow the school to expand its surveillance testing.

Shenandoah University is conducting its own SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing through the use of pooled saliva samples, making it only one of a handful of universities in the country to do so. The university has been doing surveillance testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, since the start of the academic year, beginning with the testing of incoming residential and commuter undergraduate students and continuing last month with select undergraduate populations. 

Now, through Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, the university is expanding its SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing program for asymptomatic individuals through pooled saliva samples, especially in high-contact populations such as student-athletes, residential students and conservatory students. Shenandoah joins the likes of Stanford and Syracuse universities in conducting pooled saliva testing.

Robbie walked me through how the tests are conducted and what happens if there is a positive result on one of the pooled tests. This will ensure a higher degree of safety on SU’s campus for students and faculty which I discussed with Mitch Moore in early August 2020.

Saliva is a less-expensive, non-invasive, and safer sample collection method compared to nasopharyngeal swabs. Viral loads are also higher in saliva compared to nasal swabs. Shenandoah University performed its first round of surveillance testing using pooled saliva the week of Sept. 14. To date, Shenandoah has tested more than 800 students using this method, and more than 2,000 students total (saliva and nasopharyngeal combined).

Surveillance testing is used to monitor for the incidence and prevalence of a community- or population-level occurrence of COVID-19, such as an outbreak. This involves randomly sampling asymptomatic individuals. The entire process is contactless, takes fewer than five minutes to complete, and is free of charge. Testing results can be returned in as few as six hours.

Robbie estimated that 40-45% of those infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are asymptomatic, yet most are still infectious and can spread the virus to others. The goal(s) of the program are to identify the asymptomatic carriers, refer them for diagnostic testing, isolate them to prevent the spread of the virus, and to take care of these individuals while they convalesce. This will ultimately help keep Shenandoah University and the surrounding community safe during this pandemic.

Shenandoah can currently test 320 students, faculty or staff each week, and expects to increase that number significantly in the weeks ahead.