MORGANTOWN — Finally, perhaps a ray of hope has emerged for college sports.
For the first time since the COVID-19 virus interrupted everyday life this past March, we received some potentially very good news last Saturday afternoon.
No, it's not a vaccine – that's still likely months away.
And no, it's not a reliable treatment for everyone who contracts the virus, but Saturday's news of a COVID-19 saliva test developed by the Yale School of Public Health could potentially be significant for sports and daily life.
The SalivaDirect test that was funded by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration this past weekend.
What makes this test so much more promising than the current test is it is simple enough to be used by labs anywhere, its non-invasive and its cheap – roughly five times less than the cost of the current test being administered.
That means just about anyone – including high schools – could potentially afford to test their athletes on a much more frequent basis and get results within a day instead of two or three days later.
This could help identify and contain the spread of the virus in a much more timely and effective manner.
Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer, said during a late-Saturday evening interview on CNN that the current U.S. testing model does not allow for sports to continue safely in the U.S.
This saliva-based test potentially could.
West Virginia University director of athletics Shane Lyons, also chair of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, was a guest on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan on Sunday afternoon, and he called the new saliva test a potential "game changer" for college sports.
"The more ability we have to test and the turnaround process of that being quicker, it will help us all," Lyons told host Dan Zangrilli. "I'm sure more availability of tests can weigh on people's decisions (to proceed with fall sports)."
Lyons added, "Right now, the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing is a minimum of 48 hours getting that back so you test someone on Sunday and you are not going to get it back until Tuesday afternoon. There are several days in there. That's a $100 test compared to what I'm hearing on the saliva test. The supplies cost only $4 and you add some labor and different things and they're saying the tests would be $15 to $20. Well now, schools have more ability to test.
"A lot of the questions out there when schools were canceling fall sports and moving to spring they were citing the health and safety of the student athlete – and they were correct in saying that. But that's because they couldn't afford testing and didn't have the availability of testing. Now, with potentially more availability at a cheaper cost, maybe more schools would have the ability to stay in the game in the fall.
"They didn't know this was coming so they had to make that choice, but if this is really coming to fruition and we can get our hands on it you could almost test every day so that would help us manage the spread of the virus and it reduces some of the contact tracing issues for those who would happen to test positive," Lyons concluded.
Lyons said West Virginia University has already begun exploring ways to obtain the new saliva test.
Fingers crossed, this new saliva test could be the bridge that college sports has been seeking until a vaccine becomes available.