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'Pooled' coronavirus testing would help track the virus, but we may not have the supplies to do it just yet

It'll save time and resources. The only concern now is the state not having enough swabs to actually test for COVID-19.

TAMPA, Fla. — A new testing effort for COVID-19 could come to the Tampa Bay area in a few weeks and doctors say it could speed up tracking of the virus

"We're reporting about 10,000 cases here in Florida and that obviously is not the direction that we want to go in," Dr. Jill Roberts with the University of South Florida Public Health said. 

With record day increases throughout the last several weeks, Roberts says we have to find where the virus is spreading. Testing is the only way.

"We all have a critical role to play in the next few weeks," Dr. Deborah Birx said. 

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In a press conference in Tampa on Thursday afternoon, Birx announced a new effort to track coronavirus in the community. 

"Pool testing. That is our breakthrough that we have been working on for three weeks. We think that Florida and this university and this particular county is a good place to start," Birx said. 

The big questions after that were, 'What is pool testing?' and 'How do we get it started?' Turns out our doctors at USF have done this before.

"Pooling became really common with diseases that are more rare. So things like our Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus. There are chickens out all over the county will get blood samples from them, we'll look and see if they have mosquito borne diseases," Roberts said.

In this cases, anyone getting a coronavirus test will be put into a group and their swabs are processed together. Roberts says most results come back negative, but if a group is positive everyone in the group will get retested to see who has the virus. 

"It's an efficiency. It's been done for many, many different infectious diseases. It could work here, assuming we have enough supplies to test each person individually at the source," Roberts said.

She thinks it'll save time and resources. The only concern now is the state not having enough swabs to actually test.

"From what I'm hearing, we don't have that. We're looking at testing sites shutting down 30 minutes after they open. So everyone has to have their own swab for their own tests to even have this conversation," Dr. Roberts said.

If implemented, the Florida Health Department or CDC will have to set out guidelines for labs to follow so they'll know how many people to group together. If too many are put in the same group, the test results could get skewed.

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