Launching a saliva-based SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing program on a university campus

PLoS One. 2021 May 26;16(5):e0251296. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251296. eCollection 2021.


Regular surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals for SARS-CoV-2 has been center to SARS-CoV-2 outbreak prevention on college and university campuses. Here we describe the voluntary saliva testing program instituted at the University of California, Berkeley during an early period of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in 2020. The program was administered as a research study ahead of clinical implementation, enabling us to launch surveillance testing while continuing to optimize the assay. Results of both the testing protocol itself and the study participants' experience show how the program succeeded in providing routine, robust testing capable of contributing to outbreak prevention within a campus community and offer strategies for encouraging participation and a sense of civic responsibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • COVID-19 Testing / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Program Evaluation*
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Saliva / virology*
  • Social Norms
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities
  • Young Adult


  • RNA, Viral

Grants and funding

We thank the Packard Foundation, the Curci Foundation, the Julia Burke Foundation, and other anonymous donors for their support of IGI FAST. We additionally thank the University of California, Berkeley for their financial support of IGI FAST. A.J.E. is a graduate research fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley ( J.R.H. is a Fellow of The Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research ( A.M. is a fellow of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.