Elementary schools to pilot pooled COVID testing

Julie Reichle

Kindergarteners line up to be checked in for Ms. Thomas' class on the first day of in-person school this February.

Elementary school families received notice on Friday about a pooled COVID testing pilot for TK-5 students attending in-person school. The Piedmont Committee for Student Testing says it wants to find out “if this may be an efficient and effective way to provide our elementary school community an affordable testing option to monitor COVID-19 spread in the months to come.” The testing would start the week after spring break and interested families were provided a sign-up link.

According to the email, PUSD will pay for the pilot program but parents are being asked if they would be willing to pay a fee for testing every other week to continue the program through the end of the school year. (It also says the district is exploring government funding sources.)

The Committee says in the email that because the test is run once for the cohort (vs. individually for each student), the price of testing is a fraction of what an individual PCR test would cost.  Ginkgo Bioworks is the testing provider.

Other details from the email:

— Ginkgo’s pooled testing is “extremely accurate”, according to the email, identifying 96% of the cases that would be identified through individual PCR testing, and extremely specific, almost never yielding false positives.

— Pooled testing is a helpful approach to monitor COVID-19 positivity within stable cohorts. Testing is conducted by “pooling” a number of student samples (stable cohort) together in one tube to see if there is a COVID-19 positive test within that specific group.

— The testing will occur at the elementary school site, likely in the schoolyard right before or after school begins. Each child self-administers a nasal swab in the lower nostril; younger kids might need a little help from their adult. Each child places his or her swab in the cohort’s tube, and the tube is sent to one of Gingko’s labs for testing. 

— Ginkgo informs the district of the test results within approximately 24 hours of receiving the samples. If the testing day is a Thursday, the district should have the results in hand by Saturday.  

–If a tube tests positive, the school will notify the affected students. The students in the cohort will then need to get individual COVID tests to determine which individual student(s) have COVID. Follow-up testing will be provided by the district.

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