Timberwolves part of research into faster, cheaper, saliva-based COVID-19 test

Kevin Doran
Updated: August 18, 2020 10:20 PM
Created: August 18, 2020 08:27 PM

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been part of a research project that may make it safer for kids to go back to school. 

It has to do with the promising results from a new saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by Yale University. They call it Saliva Direct

You submit a clean sample of saliva and the test results take hours, not days. The test is also much cheaper than conventional COVID-19 testing, which can cost up to $150 each.    

Dr. Robby Sikka is Vice President of Basketball Performance and Technology for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has been involved in the research and told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS our country will benefit from the new saliva test. 

"I know there's been a lot of media attention focused on it," said Sikka. "The cool part about what the FDA and Yale and the government have done here in collaboration with the NBA is that they've created a great recipe. That recipe for a test can be used at labs all over the country."

Sikka believes the new saliva test will drive the cost of COVID testing down.

"What I think is really important for people to remember is we should be testing some of the kids who are going to school. You know the cost of the actual materials for the test are one to four dollars. We recognize there's going to be a mark-up; you've got to pay for some of the other elements and the staff. But having a $10 test and having something that's out there at that price, that's what's really going to drive this" he said. 

What about reliability compared to the more invasive COVID-19 tests? According to Sikka, "As far as the sensitivity, we've found it's about 90% sensitive. And if you test frequently enough, it becomes something that it doesn't miss the positives."

He said the test is being used right now in the NBA and the Timberwolves have been part of the research. 

"So we swab and we do saliva every day. We generally test 6 days a week typically. And the saliva test is being used in Orlando with some of the league staff. And then we're going to start to see it rolled out in different parts of the country," said Sikka. 

Sikka hopes the saliva test will keep school safe this fall. 

"Our hope back in May was that this test would help schools. This was not designed for the shooting guard or the running back, this was designed for the student body. And my feeling is that we are going to be able to test students. We are going to be able to screen using this test. And that's what should be exciting. And the more we test in schools the better it's going to be for our community because it's going to reduce the spread."

In addition, the Minnesota Department of Health offers free at-home saliva testing for teachers and school staff performed by a company called Vault Health

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