Washington, D.C. — At a U.S. Senate Health Committee hearing this morning focused on safely reopening our communities and schools, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Committee, questioned Dr. Fauci about a new method to more efficiently test large groups of people for COVID-19. This cost-effective strategy can be used in settings such as schools to detect the presence of the virus.
Senator Collins referenced Maine’s recently issued framework for safely returning to campuses this fall, which recognizes the importance of testing and the need to include financially struggling institutions in partnerships in order to make sufficient testing protocols possible.
“Last week, you spoke about the possibility of the development of pool testing strategies, and as I understand this would allow for more people to be tested using fewer resources. The director of a lab at Stanford suggests that this makes particular sense in areas with low rates of COVID-19 where you would expect the large majority of tests to be negative. Could you expand on the possibility of expanding the pool testing?” asked Senator Collins.
“[I]f you want to get a feel for the penetrance of infection in the community, rather than testing…each individual person, which takes resources and time…you can do a statistical analysis without losing sensitivity by pooling,” responded Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Dr. Fauci explained that pooling works by testing a group of approximately 10 or 15 people. Rather than getting results for each individual, however, the tests are combined, and only one result is needed. If the results are negative, testers can move on to the next group of people. If the results are positive, the individuals can be retested to find the infected person.
“[Pool testing] can be used in any of a number of circumstances at the community level or even in school, if you wanted to do that,” Dr. Fauci continued.