Gingko Bioworks Rolls Out Pooled COVID-19 Testing Pilot for Schools

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Young woman getting tested
[Source: Marko Geber/Getty Images]

Ginkgo Bioworks announced today the launch of a pilot program to bring COVID-19 pooled testing to K-12 classrooms. Set to kick off on January 4, 2021, the no-cost program is designed to enable large-scale testing for schools, businesses and other communities of people to help them manage safely re-opening.

“This pilot is a huge step in reopening a critical part of our national ecosystem – schools. Having testing on-campus and readily available to all students and faculty can help build confidence in returning to in-person learning,” said Jason Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks in a press release. “Bringing surveillance testing to everyday settings like classrooms will be instrumental in the country’s ongoing COVID-19 response strategy.”

Pooling of tests has the potential to offer broader population-wide data within schools and school districts to aid public health decisions. Ginkgo said it hopes to work with hundreds of schools in this pilot to better understand and refine the logistics of scaling classroom pooling across the country.

As part of the pilot, Ginkgo will provide all materials required to collect and ship samples, in-depth on boarding support, lab processing power, and data return at no cost to participating schools. Schools will support the pilot with management of on-site logistics and communication with students and families. Ginkgo’s early pilot showed that testing is so intuitive and simple that even younger students can successfully self-collect swabs.

Classroom pooling is a method for surveillance testing for COVID-19 that lets schools easily test many people at once, providing a group result for a whole classroom. Samples are collected from multiple people in the same classroom and mixed together or “pooled” in the classroom and run as a single test in the lab. This testing model reduces the logistical burden of collecting samples in school, and costs much less than testing people individually.  By providing a less expensive method of testing while also simultaneously greatly increasing the number of people that can be tested at once, pooling can be an effective tool for managing outbreaks.

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