Pooling in a Pod: A Strategy for COVID-19 Testing to Facilitate a Safe Return to School

Public Health Rep. 2021 Sep 6:333549211045816. doi: 10.1177/00333549211045816. Online ahead of print.


The COVID-19 pandemic prompted widespread closures of primary and secondary schools. Routine testing of asymptomatic students and staff members, as part of a comprehensive mitigation program, can help schools open safely. “Pooling in a pod” is a public health surveillance strategy whereby testing cohorts (pods) are based on social relationships and physical proximity. Pooled testing provides a single laboratory test result for the entire pod, rather than a separate result for each person in the pod. During the 2020-2021 school year, an independent preschool-grade 12 school in Washington, DC, used pooling in a pod for weekly on-site point-of-care testing of all staff members and students. Staff members and older students self-collected anterior nares samples, and trained staff members collected samples from younger students. Overall, 12 885 samples were tested in 1737 pools for 863 students and 264 staff members from November 30, 2020, through April 30, 2021. The average pool size was 7.4 people. The average time from sample collection to pool test result was 40 minutes. The direct testing cost per person per week was $24.24, including swabs. During the study period, 4 surveillance test pools received positive test results for COVID-19. A post-launch survey found most parents (90.3%), students (93.4%), and staff members (98.8%) were willing to participate in pooled testing with confirmatory tests for pool members who received a positive test result. The proportion of students in remote learning decreased by 62.2% for students in grades 6-12 (P < .001) and by 92.4% for students in preschool to grade 5 after program initiation (P < .001). Pooling in a pod is a feasible, cost-effective surveillance strategy that may facilitate safe, sustainable, in-person schooling during a pandemic.

PMID:34487461 | DOI:10.1177/00333549211045816

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