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Optimal uses of pooled testing for COVID‐19 incorporating imperfect test performance and pool dilution effect: An application to congregate settings in Los Angeles County

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Pooled testing is a potentially efficient alternative strategy for COVID-19 testing in congregate settings. We evaluated the utility and cost-savings of pooled testing based on imperfect test performance and potential dilution effect due to pooling and created a practical calculator for online use.


We developed a 2-stage pooled testing model accounting for dilution. The model was applied to hypothetical scenarios of 100 specimens collected during a one-week time-horizon cycle for varying levels of COVID-19 prevalence and test sensitivity and specificity, and to 338 skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) in Los Angeles County (Los Angeles) (data collected and analyzed in 2020).


Optimal pool sizes ranged from 1 to 12 in instances where there is a least one case in the batch of specimens. 40% of Los Angeles SNFs had more than one case triggering a response-testing strategy. The median number (minimum; maximum) of tests performed per facility were 56 (14; 356) for a pool size of 4, 64 (13; 429) for a pool size of 10, and 52 (11; 352) for an optimal pool size strategy among response-testing facilities. The median costs of tests in response-testing facilities were $8250 ($1100; $46,100), $6000 ($1340; $37,700), $6820 ($1260; $43,540), and $5960 ($1100; $37,380) when adopting individual testing, a pooled testing strategy using pool sizes of 4, 10, and optimal pool size, respectively.


Pooled testing is an efficient strategy for congregate settings with a low prevalence of COVID-19. Dilution as a result of pooling can lead to erroneous false-negative results.

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