Sen. Lamar Alexander coined what may be a new catchphrase in COVID-19 testing during a Senate hearing on Tuesday—or, at the very least, an inspiration for memes: the saliva lollipop.
While discussing ways to increase testing for the coronavirus and to make it more patient-friendly, Alexander mentioned using a “saliva lollipop” to get test results. “Another proposal, not yet approved, is to put in your mouth a sort of lollipop that is a sponge, take a photograph of the lollipop with your cellphone and transmit it to a laboratory,” he said during the Senate health committee hearing on Tuesday. “If it lights up, you will know you test positive.”
This isn’t the first time the Republican Tennessee senator has mentioned the saliva lollipop. He also talked about it on NBC’s Meet the Press earlier this week while addressing safe ways to reopen college campuses. “You might be able to put a lollipop in your mouth with a swab, take a picture of it with your cellphone, and if it lights up if you’re positive,” he said. “Or you send that swab to a laboratory that’s not too far away, and they use what they call gene sequencing machines, which are already there; they could do tens of thousands of tests very quickly. That will lower the risk that there’ll be COVID-19 on the campus, and you’ll be safe enough to come back and bring your tuition money and your dorm rent.”
After the hearing, the term “saliva lollipop” started trending on Twitter:
“Saliva lollipop” is a new one for me.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) May 12, 2020
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is playing up the promise of a coronavirus test he calls a “saliva lollipop.”
People could simply snap a photo of the “saliva lollipop,” he says.
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) May 12, 2020
Words I didn’t expect to hear this AM in the Senate HELP committee #COVID19 hearing: “saliva lollipop”
(Sen Lamar Alexander discussing future potential technologies for testing.)
— Meg Tirrell (@megtirrell) May 12, 2020
Not familiar with the saliva lollipop? You’re not alone.
“This is not something that’s on the market right now,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “This is a kind of future technology that was brought up to show what kinds of technology people are thinking about trying to make,” he says. “It’s probably an innovative idea where you could possibly have a lollipop coated with a testing agent, and when it’s mixed with your saliva, it changes color. But we don’t have that kind of technology now.”
“Many people don’t know what he’s talking about,” Adalja adds.
Alexander’s chief of staff, David Cleary, told Yahoo Life that “we’ve heard from a couple of scientists who are submitting proposals like that to the NIH for review. Suck on a sponge on a stick, like a lollipop, and either take a photo with a special filter on your phone or send it in to a lab.”
Saliva testing is now available for COVID-19. The DNA testing company Vitagene just received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its at-home saliva test kit. “It is a test that detects genetic material of the COVID-19 virus in saliva,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life.
But a lollipop? If anyone is developing it, they are not open about it at this time. “I have not seen evidence of this kind of test being developed,” Adalja says. Watkins agrees. “It’s conceivable, but doesn’t exist now,” he says.
That’s not to say that a saliva lollipop wouldn’t be welcomed, Adalja says, especially since COVID-19 tests can still be difficult to come by in the United States. “People are trying to find a way to make testing easier, and to have it be done by an individual without the need for a medical professional,” he says. “But I haven’t seen a saliva test being used as a lollipop device.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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