Labs to use pooled testing to ramp up COVID-19 surveillance

The U.S. government is planning to use a strategy called pooled testing to boost the number of COVID-19 tests performed nationwide, The New York Times reported. 

Pooled testing works by collecting samples from a large population of people, setting aside part of each sample, then combining the samples into a batch of five or 10 and testing them all at once. If a pool has a positive result, the lab then retests the parts of the tests that were set aside to determine which person had the positive result. 

The U.S. military has used pooled testing at bases worldwide since the 1940s. 

The strategy works best in settings where the number of people infected is likely to be less than 10 percent rather than in high-risk areas, the Times reported. It would be used to test asymptomatic people as well as those with symptoms. 

Pooled testing could be implemented for as little as $3 per person per day, according to an estimate from the University of California, Berkeley. A director of a state lab in Nebraska told the Times the method could increase testing capacity by at least 70 percent. 

"We’re in intensive discussions about how we’re going to do it," Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Times. "We hope to get this off the ground as soon as possible."

Brett Giroir, the HHS deputy secretary, told the Times he expects the pooled testing program to be up and running by the end of the summer. 

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