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New COVID-19 test looks to save time, money and lives through sense of smell

Posted at 9:18 AM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-22 11:32:29-05

With millions of Americans getting tested for COVID-19 every single day, some are struggling with long waits for results.

But now, researchers say there’s a much easier and faster way to test for the virus, and its right under your nose.

“You scratch it, smell it, and then you have a choice of these different windows and you pick which one,” said Derek Toomre, Ph.D., a professor at Yale University School of Medicine.

Toomre is part of U-Smell-It, a team that created a scratch-and-sniff app to help determine if someone has COVID-19 all through the sense of smell.

“It's going to see how good your sense of smell is and if you do really well, you’ll pass,” Toomre said. “And if you don’t, it will say, ‘hey, you got something up.’”

Despite being less accurate than a COVID-19 diagnostic test, this product is much faster and less costly. With results available in less than a minute and the cards costing 50 cents a pop, scientists say this smell app could outperform traditional tests at a fraction of the price.

“We’re all familiar with the idea of testing people for fever as a way of finding people who have COVID,” said Roy Parker, Ph.D. a biochemistry professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But that hasn’t worked very well.”

Parker says with only about 20% of people with COVID-19 getting a fever, compared to 80% of people with COVID-19 reporting a loss a smell, a smell test is a much better indicator of COVID-19 infection than a temperature check.

“It would make a big difference because you would identify people who have COVID, but they have such mild symptoms that they don’t know it and they’re out walking around potentially infecting other people and their family,” Park said.

While commercially available, U-Smell-It is now looking for emergency FDA approval with the goal of getting their scratch-and-sniff cards into people’s hands and under their noses as quick as possible.

“I can see people saying, ‘hey, this is not serious,’ and that’s fine, don’t take it serious,” Toomre said. “Let’s just try to do it and see if it works. And if you can’t smell that test and it’s saying, ‘hey, there’s something up’ well, you know, you should isolate and check out.”