“Saliva is looking quite feasible for screening,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, director of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, of baseball’s plan. “Several large institutions are considering using this approach for back to school or college in the fall.”
Some organizations have considered the Rutgers test but are reluctant to go all-in on it, over fears that it is still unproven and may not succeed in immediately flagging an ill employee.
But baseball is confident that this saliva test is ready for the big leagues, considering it the best available option for high-volume screening on a consistent group of people, a person familiar with the league’s testing plans said.
There are several reasons for that, this person said. For starters, the ease of administering the test ensures compliance, a necessity for baseball to contain an outbreak. It also reduces the risk of error by the person administering the test, a common problem with the swab tests.
Most importantly, the league believes the results are as accurate as the swab tests, making the saliva test ideal for a program of this magnitude. Ultimately, MLB will need to process tens of thousands of coronavirus tests over several months. It hopes to restart spring training in June, followed by opening day in early July.
The MLB Players Association, which has to sign off on the plan before baseball can resume, is also comfortable with the accuracy of the saliva test, a person familiar with the union’s thinking said.
After consulting with medical experts, the MLBPA shared MLB’s view that swabs are unpleasant for the donor, risky for the administrator, and present the risk of siphoning protective equipment from health care professionals.
(The league and the union must also reach an agreement on player compensation and other economic considerations during a season without fans, potentially a thornier issue to overcome than health and safety.)
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