medRxiv. 2020 Aug 4:2020.08.03.20165233. doi: 10.1101/2020.08.03.20165233. Preprint.
Most currently approved strategies for the collection of saliva for COVID-19 diagnostics require specialized tubes containing buffers promoted for the stabilization of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and virus inactivation. Yet many of these are expensive, in limited supply, and not necessarily validated specifically for viral RNA. While saliva is a promising sample type as it can be reliably self-collected for the sensitive detection of SARS-CoV-2, the expense and availability of these collection tubes are prohibitive to mass testing efforts. Therefore, we investigated the stability of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and infectious virus detection from saliva without supplementation. We tested RNA stability over extended periods of time (2-25 days) and at temperatures representing at-home storage and elevated temperatures which might be experienced when cold chain transport may be unavailable. We found SARS-CoV-2 RNA in saliva from infected individuals is stable at 4°C, room temperature (~19°C), and 30°C for prolonged periods and found limited evidence for viral replication in saliva. This work demonstrates that expensive saliva collection options involving RNA stabilization and virus inactivation buffers are not always needed, permitting the use of cheaper collection options. Affordable testing methods are urgently needed to meet current testing demands and for continued surveillance in reopening strategies.