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Olivet Saliva Tests Students for COVID-19

This semester, Olivet has implemented schoolwide saliva testing in an attempt to keep a COVID-19 outbreak at bay.

Each student is required to submit a sample at least once a week on their designated day at one of three dropoff locations on Olivet’s campus in Ludwig Center, Reed Hall of Science, or the Perry Recreation Center. Those who are more active within campus life are required to submit samples twice a week.

The saliva test is more sensitive and accurate than the rapid antigen COVID-19 test, but is not currently Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved. If a student were to receive a positive result from their saliva test, they would be required to take another test to confirm results, although Dr. Dan Sharda of the Olivet’s Biology Department affirms that the test is very accurate.

The samples are tested on campus on the first floor of the biology department. Students within the department process the samples with faculty overseeing the operation. If a sample is found to be positive it’s flagged and retested to confirm results, meaning it is almost impossible to receive a false negative.

According to BBC News, the saliva test is also “good at finding cases, even if someone has no symptoms.” This means that cases on campus can be caught sooner.

“We're finding that we’re actually catching a lot of people very early on in the process,” said Dr. Sharda.

The test has the ability to pick up and flag someone as positive for the COVID 19 virus even if they have not built up enough antigen yet or the virus is almost out of their system, something the antigen test isn’t always able to do, Sharda added. He predicts that the university will see a fewer number of cases than they did in the fall.

At the start of the semester, over 20 students tested positive. Due to the rapid and accurate results of the saliva test, these students were quickly isolated. As of January 28, only four other students have tested positive.

While some students were not happy with the university’s decision to mandate testing, overall the program has been positively received. In fact, Olivet has seen a rise in students joining this semester in relation to past spring semesters.

"There’s so many benefits that come with everybody participating in the program,” says Dr. Lisa Vanderveer, who oversees Counseling and Health Services on campus. “We can have more freedom. We have less people getting sick, and less people spreading it to each other.”

The university hopes that through saliva testing, they will be able to give students more opportunities and freedoms as the semester goes on — to give them more of a chance at normality.

“While it still feels like we’re sort of restricted, compared to what I’ve heard from a lot of other universities, I think we are enjoying a little more of what feels normal,” Vanderveer said.

However, Dr. Sharda states that the next month is going to be critical. Just like the common cold and flu, COVID-19 spreads rapidly during the colder months. He advises students to continue to social distance and wear their mask whenever they are inside or around others.

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