Not just about hoops: NBA players helped dry run new COVID-19 test that just got FDA nod

Aug 17, 2020

WHILE the restart gave the NBA a chance to wrap up its aborted season and bring back a much-needed bit of normalcy in the world, it also hosted a medical experiment that could end up making a huge impact outside sports.

In a press release, the Yale School of Public Health announced that the new SalivaDirect test — initially used inside the NBA bubble — has been granted “emergency use authorization” by the US Food and Drug Administration.

What’s different about this SalivaDirect test?

As you know, COVID-19 RT-PCR tests usually require a nasopharyngeal swab to be inserted up someone’s nostrils — something we saw a lot of in the Instagram stories and vlogs of NBA players as they went through their mandatory daily testing.

But inside the bubble, players who opted to participate in the SalivaDirect experiment were also donating spit.

Yale researchers then compared the results they got from using spit samples with the results they got from swabs.


“Results so far have found that SalivaDirect is highly sensitive and yields similar outcomes as NP swabbing,” said the release.

This could be a game changer, as “SalivaDirect is simpler, less expensive, and less invasive than the traditional method for such testing, known as nasopharyngeal (NP) swabbing,” continued the release.

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The FDA further explained that this test is also unique because “it does not require separate nucleic acid extraction” — a step that requires specialized equipment. Labs in the US have also complained of running out of swabs during the pandemic, according to an NPR report.

Nathan Grubaugh of the Yale team said that labs could charge as little as $10, or around P486, to test saliva samples.

“If cheap alternatives like SalivaDirect can be implemented across the country, we may finally get a handle on this pandemic, even before a vaccine,” he said.

The SalivaDirect test was funded partly by the NBA, reported The Verge.


Other medical tests conducted inside the NBA bubble included antibody research and the test of a new smart tracker, which, in theory, will flag subtle COVID-19 symptoms early on in the infection.

With the FDA’s nod, Yale now hopes to provide SalivaDirect to interested laboratories for further testing.

SalivaDirect is the fifth saliva-based test authorized by the US FDA.

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