MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Timberwolves are part of a new game plan approved by the FDA to screen for COVID-19. The team is working with the NBA, the Players’ Association, and Yale to try out a new saliva-based test called Saliva Direct. They are hoping to begin distributing it within the next few weeks.
WCCO’s Norman Seawright III spoke with the Timberwolves’ Dr. Robby Sikka. He’s vice president of basketball performance and technology, and leads COVID-19 research studies.
As the NBA has been relying on frequent screening to finish its season, Sikka saw an opportunity in Yale’s research with Saliva Direct, which is cheaper and can return results faster.
“We were talking about COVID back in January when we noted that supply chains were being impacted, so as an organization we were kind ahead of the curve in understanding where we were,” he said. “This doesn’t just mean that we’re going to be working with a basketball team, it means that we might be able to work with employers and with schools and with universities around the country.”
Sikka said that one of the top goals is to drop the price of testing for COVID-19.
“Our goal is to flood the market with as many tests as possible, and be able to screen positives, because we’ve seen that’s what works in sports,” he said.
He offered Seawright a metaphor for how the concept behind Saliva Direct cuts costs.
“If you wanted to get a pizza from New York right now, you’d probably spend about $150, right? Ship it, have it made, everything. This takes the best pizza recipe from New York and takes it to every pizza place in the country. And the cool part is it doesn’t matter if you get your ingredients from Whole Foods or Cub Foods. It’s something that we know wherever you get the toppings, it’s going to taste great,” he said. “That allows us to bring the concept to any lab in America, and our goal is over time to get more labs to adopt this, because it’s an easier way to test.”
Sikka stressed that the plan is to offer this test at the lowest possible cost. This will allow for more frequent screening, which will offset it being less sensitive than the swabbing and, as he mentioned, make it more readily available.
He also stressed, even with this screening, face coverings are still critically important.