AFMC begins phased COVID surveillance testing

Staff Sgt. Asa Stansbury, 75th Medical Group, swabs an Airman for COVID-19 during a medical screening May 15 at Hill Air Force Base.

One of the advancements in COVID-19 testing involves companies moving away from the deep nasal swab test to a saliva test.

The deep nasal swab test, which is done by sticking a long cotton swab all the way up one’s nasal cavity, has been called uncomfortable and awkward, as anyone who’s gotten that particular test can attest to.

Now, more than six months since the arrival of COVID-19 in Utah, more and more companies are pivoting away from the deep nasal swab test to a more comfortable and efficient saliva test.

“This new process should be much more comfortable for patients and enable us to collect samples from more patients at one time while maintaining the quality of our testing,” reads Intermountain Healthcare’s website page detailing the changes.

With the saliva test, all one needs to do is spit in a tube and hand the tube back to the attendant.

There’s no deep nasal swab or watery eyes with testing anymore, and officials think it may reduce some of the hesitancy that people have in getting a test.

“It is so much more comfortable for sure,” said Nathan Alexander, a marketing and communications manager with Intermountain. “The kicker with saliva is that you do need to get a certain amount of saliva in there. Sometimes if you got some dry mouth or something like that its a little harder to get that amount.”

Alexander did add that if a patient for whatever reason can’t produce enough saliva, then that patient may have to get tested using the deep nasal method, and if someone’s going to get a saliva test, that person can’t eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes prior to the test.

Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah health centers went to the saliva test last month.

The saliva test still goes through the same polymerase chain reaction testing process that the deep nasal test uses, so test turnaround times haven’t changed and are still in the 48-hour range for the most part.

As far as accuracy in detecting COVID-19, University of Utah researchers published a study in August in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology that concluded that the saliva test yields similar results to the deep nasal test, though the study also cautioned that neither test was perfect in fully detecting the disease.

According to the study, 350 people were tested using both a deep nasal test and a saliva test. The saliva test found 81 positive cases while the deep nasal test found 80.

The study pointed out that the saliva test can be more comfortable and easier for patients, and the study also spelled out some other potential advantages to the saliva test, as well as a “self-collected anterior nasal swab (ANS)” test.

“The advantages of ANS and saliva are the minimally invasive nature of sampling and potential for patient self-collection, which may reduce healthcare worker exposure to infectious aerosols,” part of the study read.

Intermountain operates testing sites at the North Ogden InstaCare, the Layton Clinic and the Bear River Clinic in Tremonton.

Testing hours at the North Ogden and Layton locations are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The testing hours at the Bear River clinic are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

The University of Utah Health Clinics operates a testing site at its Farmington location in Station Park. Testing hours there are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Appointments are not necessary to get a test with U Health Centers, according to its website. A U Health Center spokesperson didn’t return a message seeking comment for this article.

Contact reporter Patrick Carr via email at and follow him on Twitter @patrickcarr_.

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