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Yale researchers partnering with NBA to study alternative coronavirus test during Orlando restart

When the NBA attempts to resume play next month amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale researchers will be there, too.

Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health have partnered with the league and the players association “to study the efficacy of a saliva-based method that quickly determines if someone is infected with the novel coronavirus,” the school announced Monday, via USA Today. 

The testing method they have developed is called SalivaDirect, and will not be mandatory for any players, coaches or staff members. Those who wish to participate can opt in voluntarily. 

“Our players are excited to be a part of this study,” NBPA chief medical officer Joe Rogowski said, via USA Today. “Not only does it offer the potential for players to have an alternative method of testing within the NBA Campus in Orlando, but more importantly it allows them to leverage their regular testing to make a larger contribution to public health in the fight against this virus.”

Currently, coronavirus testing is widely done with a nasopharyngeal swab. This method, per the report, requires just a small saliva sample — which is not only less expensive, but also poses less of a risk for health care workers administering the tests. 

Players, coaches and staff members are going to be regularly tested for the coronavirus while at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Those who opt in for the second SalivaDirect test will provide researchers the chance to compare test results and determine how accurate and efficient their test is. 

“In talking to our partners at the NBA, we heard from them, that, in addition to finding less invasive testing solutions for its players and staff, there is a strong desire on their part to give back to the public and especially help low-income communities, so it became immediately clear that our interests were aligned,” Yale School of Public Health assistant professor Nathan Grubaugh said in a statement, via USA Today.

While it’s not yet clear how effective the new test is, researchers compared the SalivaDirect tests to the traditional ones from nearly 150 cases at the Yale New Haven Hospital, according to USA Today, and found “that saliva samples taken from just inside the mouth provided greater detection sensitivity and consistency throughout the course of an infection than the broadly recommended nasopharyngeal approach. The study also concluded that there was less variability in results with the self-sample collection of saliva.”

The coronavirus outbreak in Florida

There were more than 2.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Monday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and more than 120,000 deaths attributed to it. 

Florida has seen a significant spike in positive cases in recent days, too, and surpassed the 100,000-case mark on Monday, and set yet another daily record last weekend. Orange County, Florida — where Disney World is located — had more than 5,100 confirmed cases alone, making it the county with the fifth-highest case count in the state. 

The NBA is currently scheduled to resume its season on July 30 in a “bubble” of sorts on the Disney campus. Commissioner Adam Silver is reportedly worried about the spike in cases in the state, too, something experts told Yahoo Sports is valid.

“That is a very serious outbreak, and it’s going to get worse,” said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University. “This is very quickly approaching scram reactor territory for me. Even with a bubble plan. I’m deeply, deeply worried.

“I still like the NBA’s plan,” he added. “This is not the NBA’s fault. This is the state of Florida’s fault. The NBA has done nothing wrong, other than putting their eggs in the Orlando basket.”

A new version of the coronavirus test will be conducted on some NBA players and coaches in Florida. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

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