Are you stumped on how to proceed with a COVID-19 testing strategy for your institution? You need to protect students, faculty, and staff. Yet, you’re challenged how to do testing that keeps the campus open and students enrolled and safe without breaking the bank?
We hear you. And, we have a solution.
It’s a pool party! No, not that kind of pool party.
We’re talking about pooled sample testing. This is a scientific method of grouping samples together in a lab process so that larger numbers of tests can be run at lower cost. In other words, individual samples can be easily collected, put together, and then tested to prevent population-wide outbreaks. This is sometimes also called screening or surveillance testing. Many public schools in the northeast as well as professional sports teams are actively using pooling to monitor and prevent outbreaks.
So, is it reliable?
Yes, it is absolutely reliable. Pooling is a screen of the population used to reduce the number of individual diagnostic tests required. It is a viral assay, which uses the same technology as a diagnostic test but does so on a group of people vs. a single person.
Individual diagnostic testing becomes costly and is not always sustainable when you have large groups of people that require repetitive testing over an extended period of time. Pooling is reliable and allows for regular testing on a large scale for less money.
So, how does pooling work and why does it cost less?
Samples are collected from individuals and sent to a FDA/EUA or HHS lab (saliva, nasal swab, sputum or other sample collection option). The “pooling” occurs by combining samples after the lab receives them and then creating sample mixtures for a single test (hence the cost savings).
Some labs can combine 24, 48, 96 or more samples in a pool, drastically reducing the overall cost of testing by reducing the per sample cost. It’s important that the sample collection process be simple and least invasive as possible to assure participation in your pooled testing program.
So, what happens when a pool comes back positive?
We’re glad you asked! If a pool is positive, then the lab will re-test each pre-mixed individual sample to determine which samples were positive. Each lab does this by re-testing the individual samples into smaller pool size increments until they identify the positive result. There can be more than one positive in a pool, ultimately confirmed by an individual diagnostic test. In other words, the pool party keeps getting smaller until those positives are identified with diagnostic testing.
How does privacy work with pooling?
It’s important that you work with a testing service like Meenta, or labs that guarantee HIPAA compliance for the confirmatory (positive) diagnostic tests.
How will community infection rates impact results and costs?
The more disciplined your community is in following socially responsible behaviors like wearing a mask, staying six-feet apart, and sanitizing hands, the lower the positivity rate and the more economical your testing program. Re-testing (due to positive pools) will be less frequent, which drastically reduces costs.
In cases where the local infection rates are high, this can lead to an increase in the total number of tests performed and extra testing costs can and will occur. Meenta also has testing options for this scenario. So, it’s important to consider and monitor the rate of infection in your community when implementing your testing plan
To Sum It Up.
With infection rates increasing and Spring semester rapidly approaching, pooled COVID-19 testing allows you to monitor your entire campus frequently at a lower cost. It’s a reliable testing program that can give you the insurance and confidence to bring your students back safely.