At-Home COVID-19 Saliva Testing Expands Despite Doubts on Accuracy

December 9, 2020 Updated: December 9, 2020

All residents in Orange County, California, now have access to order free, at-home COVID-19 saliva tests after a preliminary start in Anaheim and Santa Ana last month.

The program expansion comes despite questions about the accuracy of the tests, as reported by The Epoch Times.

“If properly administered, the test can be useful, if the interpretation is made with someone knowledgeable about the assay and the disease,” Dr. Thomas Cesario, an infectious disease specialist based in the city of Orange, told The Epoch Times as the first tests were released. “They have to make sure the swab is done correctly; it has to be stored correctly, and it has to be timed correctly.”

Ambry Genetics, which is partnering with the County of Orange Health Care Agency to provide the tests and results, states that it uses saliva collection “for a simpler and more convenient experience than nasopharyngeal swabs commonly used by other labs.”

The at-home kit includes a FedEx return label and package to send the completed specimen to Ambry Genetics. Ambry also states that most results are reported back within 24 hours of receiving the sample.

The Dec. 8 announcement about the increased availability of the at-home testing comes at a time when local and state government agencies are seeking more aggressive ways to attack the spread of COVID-19, including new stay-at-home orders and business closures. Officials said the new set of orders is based on the growing number of positive tests and the declining percentage of Intensive Care Unit space availability.

ICU hospitalizations have increased nearly 69 percent over the last two weeks, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a livestreamed update on Dec. 8.

Hospitals in the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions are seeing a “significant load in their ICUs from COVID and therefore have a small percentage (10.1 percent) of ICU beds open,” Ghaly said.

While some health experts remain skeptical about the accuracy of at-home testing, others are leaning on the method’s convenience to help get a handle on how many people are infected.

“The big issue is, how do you get more people to get tested,” Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told The New York Times. “Everyone has seen lines looping around stadiums and urgent cares.”

Rimoin said that a test people can do at home and mail in “really helps.”

“It isn’t going to end the pandemic, but it is certainly a major step toward making testing more accessible and widespread.”