Minnesota eyes new COVID-19 saliva testing lab in Oakdale

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Plans are being finalized in Minnesota for a $14.66 million COVID-19 saliva testing lab in Oakdale. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan announced on Tuesday that the state is partnering with the nation’s leading distributor of saliva testing to create plans for the new lab.

The state looks to partner with Vault Health and RUCDR Infinite Biologics, based in New Jersey and connected with Rutgers University. Rutgers' RUCDR Infinite Biologics holds the country’s first FDA Emergency Use Authorization PCR saliva test for COVID-19 while Vault Health provides logistics and telehealth services necessary to carry out the test.

"We are thrilled to see Governor Walz and the state government step up for their residents and protect the entire population from COVID,” Vault Health Co-Founder and CEO of Vault Health. “The Rutgers saliva test is reliable, has a low false negative rate and is comfortable to take. Our hope is that other governments will follow suit to unlock testing for all US residents.”

If the lab runs three shifts, it could process as many as 30,000 samples a day. According to the Governor's office, Minnesota testing capacity is between 20,000 and 22,000 tests per day.

“Research on the efficacy of all COVID testing is ongoing,” said Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology with the Minnesota Department of Health. “The recent studies on saliva testing show it to be as effective as the nasal swab testing method. There are a lot of different options on the market, but we believe this saliva test is a particularly sensitive and accurate test, based on the research results so far.”

Minnesotans would be able to access a saliva test at 10 semi-permanent sites across the state. Each site would create 15-20 temporary jobs and the state is working on mobile testing events and at-home testing.

State officials say the saliva test is less prone to supply shortages than the nasal swab and it avoids the discomfort of nasal or oral swab tests. To obtain a saliva sample, one person spits into a funnel attached to a small test tube. Once enough saliva is collected, the tube is closed with a plug. The plug releases a preservative that keeps the sample good for up to 2 weeks without needing refrigeration.

According to the test's manufacturer, the saliva test is safer than other tests because it eliminates the need for health care workers to wear personal protective equipment.