LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) -- A new type of COVID-19 test may help university students return to campus this fall.

New saliva-based tests could help colleges return to campus

A new type of COVID-19 test may help university students return to campus this fall.

The University of Kansas and several other colleges are now using a sampling method developed by a Lenexa laboratory.

KU is attempting to screen nearly 30,000 students and faculty at a drive-through test site set up in a campus park-and-ride lot.

Cooper Michelson, a freshman, was a little nervous about the process.

"It's something we have to do," he said. "But it's something I support."

It's not the typical nasal swab that has been the preferred method at mass testing sites in Kansas City and the surrounding area.

As students pull through the lot they receive a back-to-class safety kit including masks, hand sanitizer, a safety pledge card and their COVID-19 test -- a collection tube.

Saliva -based tests are a more efficient way to conduct mass testing for many diseases. The FDA only recently approved a handful of testing methods, one of which was developed by a Lenexa, Kan. company, Clinical Reference Laboratory.

The lab's CEO, Robert Thompson, said the facility can handle up to 20,000 tests in a single day.

"When COVID hit were were driven out of a desire to help," Thompson said. "And get us back to work and back to school."

The tests also use a method called pooling. The lab combines a handful of samples and tests the batch. If the batch comes back positive the lab can go back to the individual samples to identify which patient needs to take appropriate measures.

Dr. Heather Fehling, who created the test, called saliva-based screening a friendlier and less invasive method. Hers is one of just five saliva tests approved by the FDA.

"The key is to get tested and identify and self quarantine and we can really contain the virus," she said.

The saliva-based tests are noticeably easier to employ.

Michelson was relieved to find out he would not be swabbed. His only problem on the day of the test was dry mouth.

"This might take awhile," he said, examining the tube's fill line.

Clinical Reference Laboratory is now working with nin universities, including KU.

Andrew Foster is the university's emergency management coordinator. He said the testing is part of a larger effort to minimize risk as students return to campus. If a student tests positive, he said the university will notify them immediately.

"We go back and we let them know what they should do," Foster said. "Hopefully we reduce the number of cases we have day one."

For the volume of students and faculty who need testing, saliva screenings seemed like a practical and efficient way to transition into the fall.

"It's hard to ask 20,000 people to stick chopsticks up their nose," Foster said.

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