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MSU researchers develop COVID surveillance program using spit test kits

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 5:34 PM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - As Michigan State University prepares to welcome back students both online and in-person this fall, researchers are busy working to find new ways to test more students, more efficiently on campus.

It begins with a simple spit test.

The kit can be done in the comfort of your home or the dorm room.

“You spit into a large tube and then we have a separate tube that has a small amount of viral transporter medium which inactivates the virus which reserves it so we can run it in a lab,” said Jack Lipton, chair and professor of neuroscience at Michigan State University.

Researchers will then take the sample and run it with others.

Lipton says this type of ‘pool testing’ makes it easier to test more people with less resources.

“We will be combining them in groups of eight or groups of 12 in order to run one determination for a group of people,” said Leptin. “It saves us time - we don’t have to run as many samples and it saves us materials.”

If the pool turns out positive, then you will need to have each person in the group take a single test.

By fall, Lipton plans to implement this COVID-19 surveillance testing to staff and students on-campus by testing 2,000 people per day.

“The ones that we are mostly concerned about are the ones living on campus and then we are going to be doing random sampling repeatably throughout the semester,” said Lipton. “It’s the only way the university can really try and figure out the best way to put resources in different areas and focus on changing habits as people move into high density living situations.”

Researchers are also looking at on-campus wastewater testing for COVID and are already finding correlation to the Harpers’ Outbreak.

“It became pretty clear that the COVID virus could be found in feces and thus in sewage wastewater,” said Joan Rose, Ph.D., a Water Microbiologist At MSU. “It was quite interesting, we saw this peak in East Lansing sewage and when we looked at the dates, they considered with the exposure time with the Harpers outbreak.

With this information, Rose and her team will continue to monitor on-campus wastewater this fall to try to give an early warning for potential outbreaks.

“We can get the sample, get it processed quickly and get it to public health, then public health can improve communication with the public and remind people to wear a mask.”

Plans for the spit test kit and voluntary surveillance testing is currently being finalized.

By September, MSU will have a registration site available for students and staff and drop off locations for the samples.

There will be pick up and drop locations for test samples on MSU’s campus.

Results from the spit kits will come back in 36-48 hours.

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