MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Thursday he’s hopeful a pool testing program established by the city can grow to be countywide. The mayor said the program can test up to 4,000 students and teachers per day.
“We are not recommending in-person versus virtual schooling,” he said. “What we are saying, if a school goes in-person, we are offering them another tool like masking and social distancing and good hygiene.”
Strickland said the pool testing program piloted by the city is ready for an expanded rollout. Earlier this year the Memphis City Council allocated $12 million in federal CARES Act funds for testing, with $2 million of that dedicated to the pool pilot program.
“What we’d like to do is build a program operationally and scientifically that could be duplicated all over the county,” he said, “But right now our funds are limited to city limits.”
Two Memphis labs have been given FDA approval to conduct pool testing, Poplar Healthcare and AEL.
Pool testing allows medical staff to put multiple samples together in 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. There’s no need to take a second sample.
“You can test more and for less cost,” said Strickland.
City officials said they’re working with youth-based education programs and charter schools. Testing of students is done with permission of parents.
“We have tested children as young as two, and the test is far more well-received than we’ve anticipated,” said Tiffany Collins, who is in charge of the city’s operation of the program.
Poplar Healthcare CEO Jim Sweeney said they’re looking to ramp up the pool process and explore whether saliva testing could be used. A report is expected to the COVID-19 task force on that in the coming days.
“Poplar itself is evaluating saliva testing,” he said. “The concern with saliva testing at this point is whether it could be used as an effective test with pooling and what that might look like.”
Pool testing is only for asymptomatic people. City officials said if you’re sick with symptoms you need to be tested at a testing site or doctor’s office and isolating.
The health department said Thursday there is currently adequate capacity at community testing sites, and concerns over testing capacity have decreased.