With COVID-19 labs experiencing renewed strains on their ability to analyze and return test results quickly, the Economist reports that they are exploring additional ways to go about testing, including by pooling samples.
The idea, it notes, traces back to testing in the 1940s of soldiers for syphilis: samples from a small group of people being tested are combined. If the pool tests negative, then all in the batch are clear, but if the test of the batch is positive, then each person from it has to undergo individual testing.
According to the Economist, this approach has been adopted for COVID-19 testing in various spots across the world, including the US, Israel, and China. Sandra Ciesek from the University Hospital in Frankfurt tells it that pooling enables them to run many more samples. The approach does come with drawbacks, however, as it does not work as well when there is a high likelihood a sample in a batch will be positive.
In July, the Associated Press reported that US officials were weighing guidelines for pooled testing and in mid-July, the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines that provided a template for how to conduct pooled qPCR-based testing for SARS-CoV-2.