As outbreaks of the omicron variant of COVID-19 spread across the country and the number of cases continues to rise, there is growing concern about the reliability of COVID testing. In a recent report, Dr. Pejman Salimpour explained why Bluestone, a division of PPS Health, is garnering attention for its saliva-based PCR tests.
What Tests Are Being Used?
“Most people are turning to over-the-counter tests for COVID-19. These are antigen-based tests, which are far less sensitive to particular variants, especially omicron and can put a large number of people at risk by giving them a false sense of safety and confidence. The next level up is to do a nasal-swab PCR test. This is more accurate — but isn’t the most effective, as it can take several days longer for the virus to be detectable by nasal swab than by saliva. Bluestone has opted to focus on saliva-based PCR tests, which are currently the gold standard for both accuracy and speed of diagnosis.”
Salimpour continued: “Naturally, businesses want their employees to be safe and back at work. The sooner they have test results that confirm whether an employee has COVID-19 in any form, omicron included, the sooner they can stop the spread of infection in the workplace. The one to three days’ difference between a nasal-swab PCR test and a saliva-based test may mean the difference between staying in business or being crippled by the loss of employees to illness and quarantine. Add to this an employer’s concern about the health and recovery of their employees, and it’s not surprising that more employers are turning to Bluestone’s saliva-based PCR tests for their staff.”
Nasal-Swab Tests Are Slower and Less Accurate
Newer studies confirm the greater sensitivity of saliva tests, particularly for early detection of the SARS-CoV-2 infection responsible for COVID-19. Because nasal swabs are less sensitive, some patients will get results that are not only delayed but inaccurate. With the omicron virus replicating at an astounding rate (70 times more quickly than earlier variants), false negatives and delayed results can be devastating to a workplace or community.
Dr. Pejman Salimpour, a physician and frequent speaker on medical issues ranging from neonatal care to protecting patients’ rights, elaborated, “When someone gets a nasal-swab test result that’s negative, they are likely to respond by returning to work, traveling, and attending large gatherings. Unfortunately, these are the very people who may have a high viral load of the omicron variant. This leads to a rapid increase in transmission. Unless physicians switch to a saliva-based PCR test, they will continue to see a spike in COVID-19 cases along with rapid, uncontrollable transmission rates. The obvious solution is for the saliva-based PCR test to become the preferred testing protocol at all levels.”
Dr. Pejman Salimpour’s Recommendations for Omicron Safety
Because of the rapid spread of omicron and the potential for severe complications of the illness, Dr. Pejman Salimpour outlined several suggestions for employers who are worried about the omicron variant and its effect on employees. First and foremost, he suggests that all employees be encouraged to talk to their doctors about getting the vaccine and boosters. It’s important to note that protection is limited without the booster, even with the first two shots. Other suggestions include:
- Monitoring employee symptoms. Any indication of a sore throat or fever should be taken seriously, with saliva-based PCR testing done at the first sign of infection.
- Observe stringent quarantine guidelines for all employees who test positive for COVID-19.
- Consider testing and monitoring all employees, whether vaccinated or not.
- Implement routine testing for critical employees and those performing vital functions in mission-critical areas of the business, even if they have no virus symptoms.
- Provide support, education, and guidance for employees who have tested positive for or show symptoms of Omicron or any other COVID-19 variants.
Dr. Pejman Salimpour is a physician, clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine, author, and founder of multiple health care businesses, and is an established expert and medical leader in the United States. Dr. Salimpour is also co-author of Photographic Atlas of Pediatric Disorders and Diagnosis.