Cornell College launches saliva testing program for athletes

Cornell College is launching a new pooled saliva testing initiative to get student-athletes back to practicing and competing.

Campus health leaders rolled out a testing procedure in January that uses  SalivaDirect tests created by the Yale School of Public Health. The new program will be an additional layer of testing on top of the college’s stratified testing program that started at the beginning of the academic year.

“Pooled saliva testing isn’t being used on college campuses a lot right now because it’s pretty new,” said Cornell College Pandemic Response Coordinator and Registered Nurse Nancy Reasland. “It’s efficient and it’s a cost-saving measure for the college. It can run parallel to the antigen testing program we’re already doing, so we will be serving the whole campus.” 

Certified athletic trainers wearing personal protective equipment will collect samples from athletes in the Small Sport Center while Cornell’s regular testing will continue in the Student Health Center. Depending on the sport and competition frequency, some students may take part in saliva testing as many as two or three times a week.

Multiple samples are tested together in one sample, and if the pool is negative all the samples are cleared. If, however, the pool is positive, then the individual samples will be re-tested to identify which member or members are positive for COVID. 

 A courier service will transport the saliva samples to Health Research Institute Laboratories in Fairfield, Iowa, where they will be analyzed. Results will be reported within 24 hours.

These protocols follow all NCAA testing recommendations for students to practice and compete in non-league competitions.

“We have a new mindset in our department–we are going to train, practice, and compete until we can’t instead of not train, practice, nor compete until we can. For example, we will pause activities if we reach a certain threshold of positive tests within a team,” said Cornell College Director of Athletics Seth Wing. “All of Cornell’s sports teams are planning on having some sort of training, practicing, and competition schedule this spring.” 

Wing says all winter and spring sports will be practicing by Jan. 24. Winter sports competitions will begin shortly after, at the end of January. Then, fall sports will roll out starting Block 6 (Feb. 15).

“The athletic experience is so important for our student-athletes that we are excited to provide that for our deserving students,” Wing said. “That said, we will not put our students’ health and safety in jeopardy to have a competition.”

Cornell tested all athletes who returned early for the spring semester using antigen tests in preparation for their first practice sessions.