Covid Test Pooling Can Save Millions of Lives

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COVID Testing has become difficult as cases surge. Test Pooling can help solve that.

Collin Wang, Staff Writer

Much like the beginning of 2020, the United States is experiencing yet another wave of COVID-19. This time though, it’s with the Omicron variant, a more transmissible version of the virus. According to PBS News, in order to fight it, President Biden has ordered half a billion at-home tests to ship to households across the country in the coming weeks.

However, there are many problems associated with his method. In his plan, every American will receive at most two tests. This is not effective since people cannot regularly test for the virus, which is critical to stopping the spread over a long period of time. 

In addition, ordering 500 million tests is a lofty goal that is doubtful to occur in the foreseeable future. Right now, global supply chains are suffering with increased demand, leading to significant shipping delays. It is very possible these tests will not arrive until after the peak of the Omicron variant, making them less useful.

It is very possible these tests will not arrive until after the peak of the Omicron variant, making them less useful.”

One solution to this predicament is test pooling. This means that instead of giving every American a test, a single test is administered to a group. If the test comes back negative, then all the group members do not have the virus. If it is positive, then individuals of that group are tested to find the ones who have the virus.

In the long run, this saves many tests to be used for the future. For example, if a group of 10 people test negative, then only one test is used, nine less than if they were individually tested. If they test positive, then 11 tests are used, only one more than individually testing 10 times.

One variation of pooling that could work is sending one test to each household. If one family member tests positive, we can assume the others will too and quarantine them early. Then, if necessary, they can be tested individually. This will also limit cases and save tests.

The pooling method works even better when the positivity rate is low. As of January 11th, the Mayo Clinic reports that the national positivity rate is 27%. This has risen dramatically in the past two weeks but it is still rather low.

Implementing test pooling right now would be optimal before the positivity rate rises more and it becomes too late. President Biden’s strategy of shipping tests to households is beneficial, but he should go a step farther by implementing test pooling to achieve lower COVID numbers.