Ask an epidemiologist what it would take to return to some version of normal as we wrestle with the novel coronavirus, and the answer usually involves doing a lot of testing — a vast amount of testing.
The more we know and the faster we know it, the more we can deal with local outbreaks as they flare up, as they unavoidably will.
The problem, though, is that there aren’t enough tests, and there isn’t enough ability to process them.
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One workaround is pool testing. The concept is simple: get swabs from a group of people, take samples from those swabs, and then test them together.
If there’s no trace of coronavirus in the group sample, you don’t need to test the individual swabs. If the group sample is positive, then go to work on finding the person, or people, who are positive.
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“Pool testing is a very, very smart innovation to reduce what is really a bottleneck in managing COVID, and that is limited testing,” says Colin Furness of the University of Toronto.
The University of Toronto’s Vivek Goel sees pool testing as the key to being able to reopen group settings like university residences.