NBA, Yale land the COVID testing breakthrough the NFL (and the general U.S. public) has been hoping for

In a significant turn of events in COVID-19 testing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency authorization for the public to begin employing a saliva-based test expected to significantly increase the availability, turnaround time and affordability of combating the coronavirus epidemic in the United States.

Developed by Yale University and jointly funded by the NBA and NBA Players Association, the testing method was granted approval by the FDA on Saturday.

The test — coined SalivaDirect — was developed to throttle up the screening process for a wide swath of Americans. The FDA approval marks a significant turn for testing in the U.S., creating the opportunity to make regular testing more readily available.

The retail pricing and companies that will carry the testing into the public domain are yet to be determined. The developers have revealed that testing could be done for as little as $4, although retail pricing is expected to be higher than that due to the cost of production, marketing, supply lines and retail outlet markups.

The NBA and Yale worked together and landed a new COVID-19 test that could make testing more affordable and available. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)
The NBA and Yale worked together and landed a new COVID-19 test that could make testing more affordable and available. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Fast test promised to be game-changer for sports

The test is expected to be a boon for the general public and professional sports as well. The testing of players and team employees would become an affordable and consistent occurrence, and it could help fans keep themselves safe before and after event attendance. Multiple NFL general managers told Yahoo Sports in early June that medical advisers told them a fast and affordable saliva test would be a game-changer for the league’s fall season.

“There we go,” one NFL general manager said on Saturday afternoon, reacting to the news. “I hope that ends up being the route the league goes!”

The peer review process has yet to take place on the SalivaDirect findings, but the data produced by Yale showed nearly identical results between groups of NBA players and staffers who were given both nasal swab testing and saliva testing. With the funding and backing of the NBA and the players union, that testing took place as the league began to ramp up preparations to finish its season in its Orlando bubble.

Fulfills country’s need for rapid, cheap, widespread testing

While other saliva tests for COVID-19 have been developed — and also received FDA approval — there have been complications with costs from $75 to $150 per test at the retail level. Turnaround times have also been as long as 48 hours. Those are two significant hurdles that the Yale research was hoping to dramatically change, aiming to make the test more affordable and the resting results more rapid. The driving theory behind that reach is that if more Americans can be tested faster and more affordably, the ability to respond to positive tests, while limiting exposure to others, will be dramatically increased.

The Yale test is also aimed at making the processing of tests more widespread in laboratories that meet the standards of an approval process developed by the university. Essentially, if any testing labs can show that they have the equipment to process the results safely, quickly and accurately, they can be considered for approval. That could rapidly expand the network of labs processing results, which could speed up turnaround times and also keep costs at a lower level.

While some professional sports teams are already using the pricier saliva testing methods and the NFL and NFL Players Association approved aggressive nasal swabbing protocols, all sports leagues that hope to host fans would be aided by faster testing methods in the population. Additionally, a fast saliva test could create the opportunity financially and structurally for the NFL and other leagues to have every employee orbiting their operations tested on a regular basis.

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