Group Testing for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome- Coronavirus 2 to Enable Rapid Scale-up of Testing and Real-Time Surveillance of Incidence

J Infect Dis. 2020 Aug 17;222(6):903-909. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiaa378.


High-throughput molecular testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) may be enabled by group testing in which pools of specimens are screened, and individual specimens tested only after a pool tests positive. Several laboratories have recently published examples of pooling strategies applied to SARS-CoV-2 specimens, but overall guidance on efficient pooling strategies is lacking. Therefore we developed a model of the efficiency and accuracy of specimen pooling algorithms based on available data on SAR-CoV-2 viral dynamics. For a fixed number of tests, we estimate that programs using group testing could screen 2-20 times as many specimens compared with individual testing, increase the total number of true positive infections identified, and improve the positive predictive value of results. We compare outcomes that may be expected in different testing situations and provide general recommendations for group testing implementation. A free, publicly-available Web calculator is provided to help inform laboratory decisions on SARS-CoV-2 pooling algorithms.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; diagnostic testing; group testing; pooled testing; screening; surveillance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / methods*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Viral Load / methods


  • RNA, Viral