UC San Diego Health looks at new strategy to deal with nationwide COVID-19 testing shortage

Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 09:14:50-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The number of rising COVID-19 cases is causing a nationwide shortage in testing supplies, and some San Diego institutions are looking for ways to tackle the deficit.

“I think it’s going to get worse in the short term, so institutions all across the country need to be preparing as if it’s going to get worse,” said Dr. David Pride, the director of molecular microbiology lab at UC San Diego Health.

“Across San Diego, institutions have been coming to us experiencing shortages of testing supplies.”
Pride said UCSD Health has been looking at pool, or batch, testing as a possible solution to the shortage problem.

“There’s the option of rather than having one patient per one test, to try to put multiple different patients together and try to perform one test on that pool of patients together,” he said.

This type of testing could help UCSD’s current testing supply last much longer, he said.

“They could take a nasal swab, a nasopharyngeal swab, and an oropharyngeal swab. We take those specimens, and we put them together,” Pride explains.

He said the key is to spot the large number of patients who need to be tested but don’t appear to have symptoms of COVID-19.

The group swabs would then be combined and tested at once.

“If that pool is negative, then all the patients are negative, and if that pool is positive, then you need to go back and test each one individually,” he said.

The strategy could be put to use in the next week or two, according to Pride.

“It’s something that we certainly have validated to demonstrate that it can work,” he said. “We have submitted our strategy to the FDA and have gotten pretty good feedback about doing it.”

However, Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s epidemiology department's medical director, said with the current positivity rate across the county, the technique may not be too beneficial at all labs.

The County of San Diego announced this week that it’s changing who can get a test as its free sites.

The priority will be people who fall under the high-risk category, like healthcare workers and those with underlying health conditions.

The county also announced a partnership with a local company that would provide up to 2,000 COVID-19 tests per day.