Pooled testing okayed in US as way of boosting Covid-19 detection

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WASHINGTON – The US Food and Drug Administration has authorised so-called “pool ” for Covid-19, a move aimed at broadening checks for the coronavirus and using fewer testing resources.

Quest Diagnostics will be able to test samples containing as many as four individual swab specimens, the agency said on Saturday (July 18) in an emergency-use authorisation.

The samples collected 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 authorisation “is an important step forward in getting more Covid-19 tests to more Americans more quickly while preserving testing supplies,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

“Sample pooling becomes especially important as infection rates decline and we begin testing larger portions of the population,” Hahn said.

Chinese officials 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 5 million individuals tested per day,” Birx told an American Society for Microbiology virtual conference in June, according to the health news site Stat.

Quest’s test was originally authorised in March for use with individual samples and remains authorised for that purpose, the FDA said.

The US, which has the world’s highest number of Covid-19 cases, recorded 74,710 new infections on Saturday (July 18), according to its Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of deaths has increased by 918 to 138,782.

The total number of infections in the US stands at 3,630,587 as of Saturday, according to CDC figures, as new cases rose at a rate of 1.4 percent, below the daily average of 2 per cent over the past week.

At the state level, Texas reported 10,158 new cases of Covid-19 marked its fifth consecutive day of virus cases over 10,000. The state now has a total to 317,730 confirmed cases of the virus.

The number of deaths in the state rose by 130 to 3,865, the Department of State Health Services said on its website, after reaching a record 174 the previous day.

New cases in Florida dropped for a second day, as did deaths.

The state reported 10,328 cases, a 3.2 per cent increase compared to the weekly daily average rise of 4.3 per cent and a second consecutive slowdown. It also reported 90 more deaths among residents after hitting a record 156 deaths on Thursday.

California reported 9,199 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, above the 14-day average of 8,475. The number of deaths there climbed by 120 to 7,595.

Arizona reported a record single-day increase in fatalities. There have been 147 deaths recorded on Saturday, bringing the total number of deaths to 2,730, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported.

Another 2,742 cases were reported, a 2 per cent rise compared to the weekly average increase of 2.5 per cent. The new total number of cases in the state is 141,265.

In New York, Covid-19 cases seem to have stabilised. 754 new infections were recorded on Saturday , in line with daily increases that have remained relatively steady for the last month, and hospitalisations remained at a four-month low.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said another 11 people died, compared to 10 on Friday.

But news report of large crowds, late-night parties and little social distancing in New York City suggest some residents might have become complacent over the coronavirus.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was criticised early on for the his delayed response to fight the coronavirus, said he would step up enforcement on bars and restaurants in an area of Queens.

“This is unacceptable,” the mayor tweeted in reaction to a Fox 5 report from the Astoria section.

“New Yorkers have made too many sacrifices to fight Covid-19. We can’t let up now.”

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said bars and restaurants would be subject to additional restrictions and tougher penalties, including a ban on stand-up bar service.

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