Saliva-based COVID-19 test strips could be available in Missouri as soon as the end of September, Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said Friday after speaking to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
The test strips were developed by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, in collaboration with Fluidigm, a San Francisco-based biotech company. Fluidigm announced Tuesday that the tests, which render results within 24 hours, were granted FDA emergency use authorization.
Williams’ prediction Friday followed Gov. Mike Parson’s comments on Wednesday, when he called the test strips “a game changer.”
About 20,000 tests can be analyzed per day and the turnaround time on results is roughly 24 hours.
“I am confident we will have saliva testing in Missouri by the end of the month,” Williams said.
Williams said Missouri has been aggressive with testing over the summer, with a widely-lauded “box in” strategy — a method most effective for containing the spread of COVID-19 in group long-term living situations, such as nursing homes.
With the start of school and return of students to campuses, though, community spread becomes more of a risk, rather than outbreaks in contained living communities, Williams said.
He acknowledged the uptick in Boone County’s numbers since students returned to MU but said the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department has been doing a good job.
Although cloth face coverings have been found to be one of the most effective methods for limiting community spread, Williams explained why he hasn’t advocated for a statewide mask mandate. He said the risk of imposing rules is that government can exceed the public’s capacity to comply. He also acknowledged different counties — with different population densities — don’t have the same needs.
In general, though: “If you can’t social distance, you need to wear a mask. Period.”
Williams also talked about the relatively good news in Missouri’s COVID-19 statistics, despite the uptick in the infection rate among young people. He pointed out the state’s mortality rate has decreased from 7% in April to less than 1% now. That’s largely because the shift in demographics to young adults.
Williams is also hopeful a COVID-19 vaccination will be rolled out in November for health care workers and January for the general public.
The health department was already working on awareness campaigns to increase the number of people who get the vaccine, he said.
The health department and providers statewide will also do all it can to promote the flu vaccine this year because limiting the number of seriously ill flu patients will be important for not overwhelming the already-strained health care system.
Williams shot down the idea the response to COVID-19 has been an overreaction and that it is no worse than the flu.
“The morbidity is much higher than in the flu ... and it’s twice as infectious,” he said. “This particular infection disease has more variation than any infectious disease we have ever seen.”