Multi-Stage Group Testing Improves Efficiency of Large-Scale COVID-19 Screening

J Clin Virol. 2020 Jul:128:104382. doi: 10.1016/j.jcv.2020.104382. Epub 2020 Apr 23.


Background: SARS-CoV-2 test kits are in critical shortage in many countries. This limits large-scale population testing and hinders the effort to identify and isolate infected individuals.

Objective: Herein, we developed and evaluated multi-stage group testing schemes that test samples in groups of various pool sizes in multiple stages. Through this approach, groups of negative samples can be eliminated with a single test, avoiding the need for individual testing and achieving considerable savings of resources.

Study design: We designed and parameterized various multi-stage testing schemes and compared their efficiency at different prevalence rates using computer simulations.

Results: We found that three-stage testing schemes with pool sizes of maximum 16 samples can test up to three and seven times as many individuals with the same number of test kits for prevalence rates of around 5% and 1%, respectively. We propose an adaptive approach, where the optimal testing scheme is selected based on the expected prevalence rate.

Conclusion: These group testing schemes could lead to a major reduction in the number of testing kits required and help improve large-scale population testing in general and in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Group testing; Mass population tests; Testing.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • Computer Simulation
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Prevalence
  • SARS-CoV-2