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What is pooled testing?

A group of test vials in a lab.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has OK'd several tests that use pooled samples to test multiple people at once for the coronavirus.

How does it work?

With pooled testing, separate samples are collected from multiple people. A portion of each sample is then mixed into a "pool" (or batch) with the others. Then this pooled sample is tested for the virus, instead of each sample being tested individually.

If the pooled test comes up positive, it means that one or more of the people tested in that group may have COVID-19. In that case, each of the samples is then tested again separately to find out who is positive. If your pooled test is positive, you will not have to submit a new sample unless the reliability of the first test is in question.

If the test of the pooled samples comes up negative, then it can be assumed that none of the people in that group have COVID-19.

Why does pooled testing matter?

Pooling samples in this way uses fewer testing resources. That may be crucial in states where tests are in short supply. And it could be a cost-efficient way to have more people tested.

Plus, because fewer tests are run overall when pooled testing is used, people will get their results more quickly in most cases, notes FDA.

There are drawbacks, though. Pooled testing is best used in areas where there are relatively few cases of COVID-19 and most tests are expected to be negative. It would be less useful in parts of the country with high rates of COVID-19.

When to be tested

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or think you may have been exposed to the virus, call your doctor to find out if you should be tested.

Learn more about COVID-19 by visiting our Coronavirus health topic center.

Reviewed 12/29/2020

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