Dr. John Emy, an internist at Caremount Medical, says it's tough having to tell his patients it could take weeks to get their coronavirus test results.

"The problem I think really happened when the virus started going out of control in the south and the west and then the testing capacity was really limited, so it would take sometimes up to 14 days to get results," he explained.

What You Need To Know

  • Doctors say pooled testing could help get COVID-19 results faster

  • Pooled testing is when samples from several people are combined and checked with one diagnostic test

  • It's an effort to save time and testing material
  • Pooled testing only works when a population has a low positive test rate, like New York currently does

Dr. Emy is hoping something called pooled testing will help.

That’s when samples from several people are combined and checked with one diagnostic test -- an effort to save time and testing material.

If a result is positive, all the people in that pool are then retested to pinpoint who has the virus.

“If you expect your incidents to be one person out of 100 is likely to come out positive in a mass screening situation, instead of testing all 100 of those people individually and using up as much test kit material as you would to do 100 tests, you can break them down into small batches," said Dr. John Wolk, whom heads the Caremount Medical testing lab.

In order to do pooled sampling, a lab like Dr. Wolk's needs emergency authorization from the FDA. Currently, according to the state health department, several labs in New York have been approved to use pooling methods, including the State University of New York (SUNY), and the health department anticipates more approvals will come soon. 

City officials also said they're working with lab partners to adopt the method, saying the impact on turnaround times has been significant. 

It's not a new concept, but pooled testing only works, when a population has a low positive test rate, like New York currently does.

“It’s the only way to accomplish the volume of testing that needs to be done," Wolk said. "Especially now as students are going back to school.”

This form of testing would not work in hotspots, because then many people would have to be retested, once again straining testing resources.

And as flu season approaches, doctors say making sure they have resources is paramount.

"As a doctor it's very frustrating because you want results as soon as possible," Emy said. "But patients, too, there's a lot of anxiety related to, do I have this, do I not have it?"

A question on the minds of many, as medical professionals work to find new ways to get COVID-19 test results, fast.


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