Santa Clara County to offer saliva-based COVID-19 test at specific sites

The change comes as the county says it is experiencing a big drop in testing since the spike over the holiday season.
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- As the coronavirus vaccine rollout continues in Santa Clara County, local officials are concerned over a drop in COVID-19 testing rates. But starting this week, they'll begin using a new saliva-based test that could encourage more people to participate.

"One of the reasons why I'm a big fan of the saliva based testing is that it's much more democratic," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert and professor at UCSF School of Medicine. "A lot of people would feel comfortable getting this test. It's very non-invasive."

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The new test will be offered at the county's pop-up testing sites at Emmanuel Baptist Church in East San Jose and the South County Annex in Gilroy. These locations were among the first in the county to transition to self-administered nasal swab testing back in

December. Under the new format, participants will not be able to eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum thirty minutes before saliva collection for accurate results.
Chin-Hong added, "The more, the saliva sits in your mouth, the higher the sensitivity is going to be because you're picking up virus, that's replicating, that's making more of itself in that area."

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The state's largest single health care provider, Kaiser Permanente, is lagging well behind other systems when it comes to vaccinating even their oldest and most vulnerable patients.



The change comes as the county says it is experiencing a big drop in testing since the spike over the holiday season. Officials say they're currently utilizing only 55% of capacity.

"Those people, especially on the frontline of work, need to get in and be tested monthly and more often, if necessary," said Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib during last week's board of supervisors meeting.

The new test is expected to be faster and easier. Participants will spit into a test tube, and because it'll be self-administered, infectious disease experts say it'll help reduce the potential exposure of medical personnel and also free them up to work on vaccinating the public.

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"Many of our communities and particularly the LatinX community, here in Santa Clara County is still being very hard hit by COVID-19," said Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease expert and professor at Stanford School of Medicine. "Anything that we can do to increase the uptake of testing will be very, very positive."

Although more vaccines are now available, the community is being reminded that testing will continue to play a key role in reducing the spread of the virus.

"Testing is a crucial part of contact tracing because to do contact tracing, you have to start with testing in the first place," said Chin-Hong.

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