Workplace COVID-19 saliva testing pilot underway in Victoria

Image of health worker wearing protective gear and holding a testing swab.
The next phase of pilot will be to test a greater number of workers in other higher-risk workplace settings over coming weeks. Image: Unsplash

A workplace saliva test pilot program has begun in Victoria to help better understand the logistics of continuous testing in higher-risk workplaces.

The first phase of the pilot, a partnership between the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) – a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne hospital – and the Victorian Government, is currently being rolled out across three Victoria Police stations.

About 1000 police officers will be tested over a two week period in Bendigo, Dandenong and Melbourne.

Using saliva to test for COVID-19 as an alternative to a nasal swab is a method validated by the Doherty Institute and has been proven to be highly accurate.

There will be different methods for saliva collection used in the pilot to better understand the most effective and comfortable way to mass test in a workplace setting. There will be three methods of collection:

  • Mouth to container
  • Swab under the tongue
  • Mouth to straw to tube

Doherty Institute Deputy Director, Dr Mike Catton, is leading the pilot at the Doherty Institute and said he is optimistic it will provide a clear picture of whether this approach is a feasible solution in higher-risk settings.

“Saliva testing has been trialled in the Doherty Institute public health laboratories and in labs around the world, and while the nasal swab remains the gold standard of COVID-19 testing, this could be an excellent alternative in some settings,” Dr Catton said.

“We believe we are the first to pilot pooled testing of saliva samples for effective and user-friendly workplace surveillance.

“While only in the first stage of the pilot, we have identified the preferred method of collecting the saliva, and have diagnosed two cases of COVID-19 among the participants. This is a good indication of proof of concept and highlights the importance of higher-risk workplace testing as a surveillance method.”

The next phase of pilot will be to test a greater number of workers in other higher-risk workplace settings over coming weeks.

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