Pool testing for COVID-19 could ease lab backlogs

Pool testing for COVID-19 could ease lab backlogs

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As more cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed, more people are seeking out testing. That’s leading to longer waits for testing results as labs get backed up.

A member of the city-county COVID-19 task force said there’s likely some relief on the way.

“What pool testing means is you can take multiple samples in one tube and run it once,” said Dr. Manoj Jain.

Dr. Jain is an infectious disease specialist and said Friday it’s likely next week two labs in the Memphis area will start pool testing.

The strategy comes after emergency FDA authorization and a successful pilot program by the city of Memphis with its employees last month.

Pool testing allows medical staff to put multiple patient samples together into a batch. If the batch is negative, there’s no problem. If the batch is positive, staff then use the already-collected samples to identify who was positive.

Dr. Jain said it saves time and money, and it would be particularly useful in tests of asymptomatic people, like hospital admissions, healthcare workers, or nursing home residents.

“It’s really helpful to use pool testing for a population which has a low positivity rate,” he said. “Because then it frees up the regular testing for those who are having symptoms.”

The Shelby County Health Department acknowledged Thursday testing sites are at capacity, and the added demand is slowing down results from labs. Officials say the lab delays hamper the ability to do effective contact tracing. The county is currently averaging about 300 new cases daily.

“We are having increased challenges with the ability to through-put tests. Some of the testing results are taking much longer to get back to individuals,” said Alisa Haushalter, Shelby County Health Department Director.

Dr. Jain said that’s why it is critical to act as your own contact tracer if you’re sick, as labs work to expand pool testing and relieve pressure on the traditional system.

“If you’re having symptoms and getting tested, please make sure that you’re in isolation,” he said, “And let others know that the test hasn’t come back yet, but that you think you could’ve had COVID.”

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