How pool testing can speed up reopening schools

Students as young as second grade have proven capable of swabbing their noses with a Q-tip.
By: | March 24, 2021
A student swabs herself as part the pool COVID testing initiative expanding to schools statewide in Massachusetts.A student swabs herself as part the pool COVID testing initiative expanding to schools statewide in Massachusetts.

Pool testing, in which even elementary school students can swab themselves for COVID, could be a key to restoring confidence around reopening schools.

Over the last several weeks, about 450 Massachusetts schools, serving more than 160,000 students, have begun pool testing.

The process should take only about 10 minutes per classroom at the beginning of the school day, with the students’ samples tested in batches of 10, says Bill Jacobson, head of pool testing at CIC Health, which is facilitating the state-supported initiative.

“Testing gives people across the board, in the school and the community, the peace of mind that school is a safe place,” Jacobson says. “And, at the quantitative level, the data is showing that it stops the spread.”


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In the pool testing, students as young as second grade have proven capable of swabbing their noses with a Q-tip.

In fact, the data showed that students can collect better samples than do nurses when swabbing students one after another, says Tim Rowe, CEO of CIC Health.

If a batch of samples comes back with a positive result, the students in the group are given rapid COVID tests individually. Those who test positive are isolated and sent home.

So far, no batch has ultimately turned up more than one positive test, Jacobson says.

Also, there have never been additional positives in cohort in the week following a positive result, which proves COVID is not spreading in classrooms where students and teachers are wearing masks and social distancing, Rowe adds.

Pool testing is not only cheaper, it also requires less administrative work. Staff do not have to enter individual students into a computer and, since the samples in the batches are anonymous, there are fewer HIPAA compliance issues, Rowe adds.

CIC Health is pool testing districts as varied the 120-school Boston Public Schools to smalls towns in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

“Superintendents are being pressured to get school reopen, and you’ve got teachers saying they want to make sure the school environment is safe,” Rowe says. “This becomes a tool, which will be free to you, to send the message to teachers and families that your school is a safe place.”