Saskatoon

U of S prof urges province to consider COVID-19 'pool testing' of students returning to school

A biomedical prof at the University of Saskatchewan is suggesting 'pool testing' as a way to detect COVID-19 at the classroom level.

Kyle Anderson says option could at least flag positive cases at classroom level

Kyle Anderson says 'pool testing' could help monitor COVID-19 at the classroom level. (Kyle Anderson/Facebook)

Kyle Anderson says he knows it's not practical to individually test thousands of students for COVID-19 when they return to schools next month.

But the University of Saskatchewan biomedical professor says it's critical to find a way to monitor the virus.

Anderson has five kids of his own in school, from Grades 3 to 10.

"If we want to open up schools, it makes sense that we should be doing as much monitoring as possible. But we don't have enough tests. We just can't run a test on every student every day," he said. 

Anderson said one option is a system called "pool testing." The way it works is that students would be tested in groups. The samples would then be analyzed. Should the results come back negative, then the 30 people in that group are clear.

This would at least allow testing at the classroom level, he said.

"If we can't test everyone we need to at least try to test as many people as often as possible. So we have that canary in the coal mine, right, that sort of first indicator that this school is starting to have community transmission," Anderson said.

"We might not be finding individual positive students but we'll know if a class has a positive case, or we'll know if a school has a positive case, and that'll allow us to sort of adjust what's happening at the school level or at the classroom level, rather than having to wait for things to get really bad."

Anderson said government should be doing everything possible at this point.

"We should be pulling out all the stops," he said.

"If we start off saying, 'Well, you know, we're not going to do very much. If things get worse, we'll do more,' well that's the opposite, right?"

Anderson said he's also waiting for some clarity around what would happen should a student or teacher test positive. He's not yet seen any formal guidelines. He said this is the type of information parents need.

"We should say this is what's going to happen when we cross this line. And that way everyone in the public will know and expect that, OK, if there's two cases at the school they lock the school down for a week. That's just what the policy is," he said.

"We don't want to sort of slowly wander ourselves into a really bad situation."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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