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Washington U. coronavirus saliva test approved by FDA

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Washington University saliva test for the coronavirus has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday.

The university worked with biotechnology company Fluidigm to develop the test, which allows people to collect their own testing samples by spitting into small tubes. Test results are available in a few hours.

The FDA gave Fluidigm emergency approval for the test, which also allows Washington University School of Medicine to start using it, according to a release from the school.

The test removes the need for health care workers to swab deep inside noses, Jeffrey Milbrandt, who heads Washington University School of Medicine’s McDonnell Genome Institute, said in a statement. It also doesn’t require RNA extraction kits, which Milbrandt said made the tests cheaper.

“People can collect the sample themselves, and it doesn’t require an uncomfortable nasal swab,” Milbrandt said. “Another problem with current testing is the shortage of certain lab supplies that are required to process viral samples. We have developed a method to process the saliva samples that doesn’t require these specialized supplies.”

Meanwhile, Missouri’s state health director said he wouldn’t follow new recommendations by U.S. officials against testing people who have been in close contact with infected people.

The new guidance was posted earlier this week on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency previously advised testing for close contacts, but on Monday that was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptom-less people who were within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

Missouri health department Director Randall Williams said on Wednesday that he didn’t understand why U.S. health officials shifted gears on testing and had been trying to get more information.

“At this point in time, barring something I learn that I don’t know yet, that would not be the direction I’d recommend Missouri go,” Williams said.

Williams said unless he was presented with “clear evidence” to the contrary, he still encouraged Missourians to get tested if needed and as recommended by their doctors.

The administration of Parson, a Republican, has pushed for increased testing as part of the governor’s reopening plan.

More than 57,000 tests for active cases were reported in Missouri during the past week, according to state health department data and an Associated Press analysis of The COVID Tracking Project data. That’s down from about 69,000 tests reported the week before.

The state uses a “box-in” strategy to test everyone at nursing homes and other places where there have been outbreaks and people are in frequent close contact with one another.

Williams also said as college classes resume, his agency was particularly concerned about spread among 20- and 30-year-olds, who Williams described as “super spreaders.”

In Boone County, home to the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus, cases increased 15 percent in the past week, to 2,014 from 1,757, according to health department data.

Statewide, at least 78,062 people were reported to have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday. COVID-19 has been attributed to the deaths of 1,449 people, although deaths have dropped significantly since April and May.

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