University of Michigan to ramp up asymptomatic, saliva-based COVID-19 testing in October

University partners with Ann Arbor-based startup for effort

In this June 23, 2020 photo provided by UC Berkeley, a student provides saliva for an experimental COVID-19 coronavirus test for asymptomatic people. Scientists at the university are collecting samples from volunteers in hopes of finding asymptomatic people to stop them from unknowingly spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus. (Irene Yi/UC Berkeley via AP) (Irene Yi, Irene Yi/UC Berkeley)

ANN ARBOR – October will mark a new phase in testing on University of Michigan’s campus as the school works to keep outbreaks of COVID-19 at bay.

The university has partnered with local startup LynxDx for saliva-based ‘surveillance testing.' Up to 6,000 tests are set to be conducted per week on asymptomatic individuals as part of the U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program. The program is free and voluntary for all students and for faculty and staff working in-person. Testing is expected to start at the beginning of the month.

On Sept. 17, U-M’s Board of Regents unanimously approved an eight-month agreement with the company which will cost roughly $2 million. LynxDx, a prostate cancer diagnostics lab spinoff founded by U-M professors and scientists, pivoted its work to address the global coronavirus pandemic.

“This will allow us to better meet a demand that we know is out there to test more asymptomatic people,” Robert Ernst, associate vice president for student life and executive director of University Health Service, said in a statement.

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Ernst, who is also the director of U-M’s COVID-19 Campus Health Response Committee, added that students who are experiencing symptoms will continue to be tested through the University Health Service, while faculty and staff are asked to turn to their health-care providers for testing.

The test used by LynxDx is the Thermo Fisher qPCR antigen test. It is FDA-approved and generates results within 24-48 hours.

“Please sign up for this free COVID-19 testing program,” U-M President Mark Schlissel implored during his weekly campus community update on Sept. 18. “So far, more than 5,700 students, faculty and staff have volunteered, and more than half are students who live off campus.”

For more information about the U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program, and to sign up for voluntary testing, click here.

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