UofSC to begin saliva-based COVID-19 testing for campus community

August 18, 2020

The University of South Carolina will start offering a new and free COVID-19 saliva-based test to all students, faculty and staff on the Columbia campus beginning Wednesday (Aug. 19). The SAFE (Saliva Assay Free Expedited) test is a non-invasive alternative to nasal swab tests and enables rapid test processing, typically delivering results within 24 hours.

The SAFE test makes it possible for the university to test thousands of students and employees daily for COVID-19. There is no limit to testing frequency. Combined with other mitigation efforts, such as face coverings, physical distancing, hand washing and contact tracing, saliva testing will be an important tool in slowing community spread of the virus from asymptomatic  carriers.

UofSC is the only school in South Carolina approved by SC DHEC with CLIA certification for diagnostic purposes and one of only a handful of universities nationwide approved to use saliva testing for diagnostic purposes. The highly accurate SAFE test works by identifying genetic material unique to the COVID-19 virus through a single saliva sample.

The project is led by the UofSC’s College of Pharmacy, which received clearance last week from the Federal Drug Administration to begin the testing through its CLIA certified lab. Final FDA approval is pending.

“The salvia test is faster, as accurate and less expensive when compared to the nasopharyngeal swab test. We are grateful for the research vision of Drs. Phillip Buckahhults, Helmut Albrecht, Carolyn Bannister, Michael Wyatt, Julie Sease and Mikell Stutman,” said College of Pharmacy Dean Stephen Cutler.

The SAFE test was developed by College of Pharmacy researchers. Successful collaboration with the university’s COVID-19 planning team and West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation, supported the rollout to the university community. Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation donated 50,000 sample tubes to the project as well as a sophisticated robot used for automated sample processing.

“If we want to stop the spread of this deadly virus, we have to expand COVID-19 screening where breakouts can occur, such as college campuses, and that is why this partnership with Carolina is so important,” said Nephron CEO Lou Kennedy. “Returning to normal begins with reliable, rapid testing. We are proud to welcome the Gamecock family back to campus by working together with the university to make this kind of test available.”

This week, walk-up testing will be available Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Davis Field II  ( area located between the Thomas Cooper Library, the fountain and Longstreet Theater.) Inclement weather location is 650 Lincoln.

Beginning next week (Aug. 24), testing will be available on the following schedule:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Davis Field II  ( area located between the Thomas Cooper Library, the fountain and Longstreet Theater.) Inclement weather location is 650 Lincoln.
  • Tuesday and Thursday from noon until 4 p.m. at 650 Lincoln  (Located next door to Tropical Smoothie Café in the space formally occupied by 9Round UofSC Campus)

Upon arrival at the testing site, students, faculty and staff will need to login to the SAFE testing site via a smartphone. Samples will be collected and coded in a manner that ensures privacy and the information will be shared with Student Health Services through a secure, HIPAA compliant data link. Additional details on the SAFE testing process can be found on the College of Pharmacy’s website.

To maximize safe physical distancing, those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have come into close contact with someone infected are encouraged to schedule an appointment through the Student Health Services testing website or call the SHS COVID-19 phone line at 803-576-8511 for guidance.