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Researchers working on pool testing for colleges to test returning students

Ellen Abbott
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Upstate Medical University in Syracuse Monday

Researchers at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse may be able to provide colleges and universities a way to track the coronavirus in students who will be returning to campus next month.

Upstate's Dr. Frank Middleton has led research into pool testing, which allows 25 individuals to be tested at a time, using saliva instead of swabs.

"We showed that we could take it from 25 people, combine it into one big mega sample and we could process that mega sample and not lose any sensitivity, even if only one person out of that 25 is positive," Middleton said.

Any positive pools would then be tested further to find COVID-19 hotspots.

"By testing a pool, if the pool is negative, everyone is clear," Middleton said. "If the pool is positive, we break out the samples, we run them individually, so it’s like an individual test."

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul toured the labs in Syracuse Tuesday, and said this kind of efficient testing can lead the way toward making sure students are safe as they come back to campus.

"We can get the results back in 24 hours from everyone in a dorm and find out if it’s a one-off, whether it’s widespread," Hochul said. "We can identify it quickly, find out if students had been with other students the night before, and get to those students. This is how you contain it."

Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego are among schools in central New York that want to use this kind of coronavirus monitoring. Upstate is also part of a research project that uses wastewater to track the virus, a method that could be used in on-campus housing as well.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.