WASHINGTON • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised “pool testing” for Covid-19, a move aimed at broadening checks for the coronavirus and using fewer testing resources.
American clinical laboratory Quest Diagnostics will be able to test samples containing as many as four individual swab specimens, the FDA last Saturday in an emergency-use authorisation.
The samples are then tested in a pool or “batch” using one Covid-19 test, rather than running each individual sample through its own test. If the pool is positive it means that one or more of the individuals tested may be infected, so each of the samples in that pool is then tested again, individually.
The United States last Saturday recorded 63,259 new coronavirus cases over a 24-hour period, according to Worldometer. That took the total number of cases in the US, the nation hardest-hit by the global pandemic, to 3,833,597 yesterday, as per the latest data.
Another 813 deaths were reported on Saturday and one yesterday, taking total fatalities to 142,878. The latest numbers cap a week which saw the US setting records in new cases for three consecutive days, topping out at 77,638 infections last Friday.
The country has seen a resurgence of cases in the Sun Belt, stretching across the south from Florida to California. In Texas and Arizona, the authorities are bringing in refrigerated trucks to cope with the rising body count.
The surge in cases has prompted some states to backtrack on loosening their anti-virus restrictions – or to reinstate tougher measures.
In just one week, the US records about as many deaths as the 5,600 lives Sweden has lost since the pandemic began earlier this year.
The authorisation for pool testing “is an important step forward in getting more Covid-19 tests to more Americans more quickly while preserving testing supplies”, said FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn in a statement.
“Sample pooling becomes especially important as infection rates decline and we begin testing larger portions of the population,” Dr Hahn said.
Chinese officials had used pool testing to quickly test vast numbers of people in Beijing and Wuhan earlier this year.
White House coronavirus task force members Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have both spoken in favour of pool testing as a way to ramp up the number of tests that can be performed.
“Pooling would give us the capacity to go from a half a million tests a day to potentially five million individuals tested per day,” Dr Birx told an American Society for Microbiology virtual conference in June, according to the health news site Stat.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reportedly baulking at US$25 billion (S$34.7 billion) in new funding favoured by Republican lawmakers in the next relief Bill to help states with coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Also opposed is a plan to allocate billions of additional dollars for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and extra funding for the Pentagon and State Department to address the outbreak across the world, said the person.
Talks are going on before the release of the Bill and the situation is fluid, the person said, with final numbers far from being nailed down. The person also said that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has proposed that the health funding be cut, and money included instead for a new FBI headquarters, long a priority for President Donald Trump.
A spokesman for Mr Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s Democratic challenger in November’s presidential election, has termed the administration’s efforts “absolutely unconscionable”.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE