Jul 18, 2020 - Health

FDA approves pooled testing for coronavirus

A person receives a coronavirus test on July 16 in Long Beach, California.
A person receives a coronavirus test on July 16 in Long Beach, California. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration said Saturday it granted the first emergency use authorization for pooled coronavirus testing to speed up the process.

Why it matters: The agency said pooling up to four samples at one time can help confirm whether people are infected with fewer resources, easing testing backlogs caused by a recent spike in infections.

How it works: If a pooled sample comes back negative, all patients are presumed coronavirus free. If a test is positive, each sample must be individually tested to find out which was positive.

  • The FDA warned that pooling tests is most efficient in areas with low prevalence because most results are expected to be negative.
  • If used in areas with high infection rates, health workers may use more resources to determine which samples in the pool are positive.

What they're saying: “This [emergency use authorization] for sample pooling is an important step forward in getting more COVID-19 tests to more Americans more quickly while preserving testing supplies,” said FDA commissioner Stephen M. Hahn.

  • “Sample pooling becomes especially important as infection rates decline and we begin testing larger portions of the population.”

Go deeper: Buildings are getting tested for coronavirus, too

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