You Can Now ‘Self-Swab’ for Coronavirus in New York City

The new spit-swab test will protect medical workers and save personal protective equipment from contamination.
April 27, 2020, 3:36pm
Medical staff at ProHEALTH Care Circle urgent care clinic preform coronavirus (COVID-19) testing in the parking lot of their clinic on April 22, 2020, in the Staten Island borough of New York City.

Starting this week, New York City will let people undergo coronavirus “self-swab tests,” Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

With more than 150,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, New York City is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. For weeks, trained healthcare professionals have suited up in full personal protective gear to test potential COVID-19 patients, using a long nasal swab that they handled directly.

Now, under the new testing protocol, the healthcare worker won’t need to get quite as up close and personal with the coronavirus. Instead, the worker will explain to the patient how to administer the test themselves.

The patient will then go into another room, take a sample from their nose using what de Blasio described as a “sterile Q-tip,” and spit into a cup. That sample and that saliva will then be enough to determine whether the patient has the coronavirus, de Blasio said.

“This was a more elaborate process, and not only slower, more elaborate for the patient, but for the healthcare worker, a challenge in many ways,” de Blasio said. “With the test we’ve been using up till now, a lot of times, it made the patient sneeze — and obviously it might be someone with COVID-19. That was going to expose the healthcare worker.”

Because the healthcare provider won’t need to handle the sample directly, this method of testing should both help stymie any potential infections, take less time, and save personal protective equipment. And ultimately, the more tests performed, the faster the city can track down potential sources of infection and, hopefully, further slow the coronavirus’ rate of infection.

Still, de Blasio said the city will need help: More private laboratories must help process these tests, and the federal government must send more supplies to labs.

“We still don’t see the federal government owning this problem,” the mayor said. “It’s been the same story from the beginning: not focusing on testing when we needed them to, and then even when it became clear that testing was the answer, we don’t see the federal government using all its powers, all its tools, to secure the supply chain.”

Cover: Medical staff at ProHEALTH Care Circle urgent care clinic perform coronavirus (COVID-19) testing in the parking lot of their clinic on April 22, 2020, in the Staten Island borough of New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)