DRUL for school: Opening Pre-K with safe, simple, sensitive saliva testing for SARS-CoV-2

PLoS One. 2021 Jun 25;16(6):e0252949. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0252949. eCollection 2021.


To address the need for simple, safe, sensitive, and scalable SARS-CoV-2 tests, we validated and implemented a PCR test that uses a saliva collection kit use at home. Individuals self-collected 300 μl saliva in vials containing Darnell Rockefeller University Laboratory (DRUL) buffer and extracted RNA was assayed by RT-PCR (the DRUL saliva assay). The limit of detection was confirmed to be 1 viral copy/μl in 20 of 20 replicate extractions. Viral RNA was stable in DRUL buffer at room temperature up to seven days after sample collection, and safety studies demonstrated that DRUL buffer immediately inactivated virus at concentrations up to 2.75x106 PFU/ml. Results from SARS-CoV-2 positive nasopharyngeal (NP) swab samples collected in viral transport media and assayed with a standard FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) test were highly correlated with samples placed in DRUL buffer. Direct comparison of results from 162 individuals tested by FDA EUA oropharyngeal (OP) or NP swabs with co-collected saliva samples identified four otherwise unidentified positive cases in DRUL buffer. Over six months, we collected 3,724 samples from individuals ranging from 3 months to 92 years of age. This included collecting weekly samples over 10 weeks from teachers, children, and parents from a pre-school program, which allowed its safe reopening while at-risk pods were quarantined. In sum, we validated a simple, sensitive, stable, and safe PCR-based test using a self-collected saliva sample as a valuable tool for clinical diagnosis and screening at workplaces and schools.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Testing*
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • COVID-19* / genetics
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Saliva / virology*
  • Schools*
  • Specimen Handling*