Pooled testing is a method that allows labs to process more tests more quickly, by mixing samples together and testing the large batch.
“Just to make it simple, if you’re pooling with 10 samples, when you do 10 tests, you can actually test 100 people instead of 10 people,” said Dr. Jim Zehnder, a professor and the director of clinical pathology at Stanford Medicine.
Dr. Zehnder told KCBS Radio that if the pooled sample comes up positive, each sample gets retested individually.
“So, in a person that’s likely to have the illness, you want to use the most sensitive test possible, which is the individual test,” Dr. Zehnder added. “But, for screening asymptomatic populations where there’s a low test prevalence, pooling is a good strategy because you can work through a lot of people really quickly.”
He said they are using this testing on assisted living facilities, and it would work well for reopening dorms or schools.
Pooled testing looks for large batches of negatives, but a positive result can detect an unexpected outbreak.
“The ideal time to implement pooled testing is when you’ve gotten control of the pandemic, flattened down the curve, the prevalence is low, and then you can use this very effectively to kind of keep an eye on things,” Dr. Zehnder said.
The FDA approval will help them be ready for the future, added Dr. Zehnder.
Pooled testing has been used successfully in the past for viruses such as HIV.