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Random testing crucial to tracking coronavirus, experts say

Sentinel testing can help trace COVID-19

As more testing sites close across Central Florida, one medical research expert says random sample testing is the best way to trace the virus.

For weeks cars have lined up at testing sites across the state testing those who already suspect they have the novel coronavirus but that may not be the best measure to determine how the virus is circulating through the community, according to Dr. Ali Mokdad.

“Not people coming to a clinic, not people who were in contact with somebody else, that’s what you need as a state, and I know in Florida they do that,” Mokadad said.

Mokdad is a researcher with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. IHME COVID-19 projections have been widely used to track the virus nationally, including by the White House.

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“The focus should be what’s the random sample size that you are testing in your community to monitor the prevalence of the virus and the incidents of the virus in your community, that’s what you need to focus on,” Mokdad said.

While Florida’s coronavirus dashboard breaks down testing numbers, there is no mention of random or sentinel testing.

In an email to News 6 a spokesperson for the Florida State Emergency Operations Center said sentinel testing is underway throughout the state of Florida, including in Orange County.

The Florida Department of Health in Orange County did so some sentinel testing in nursing homes in April. The county tested five nursing homes and 10 individuals at each facility.

All of the results were negative, and the department felt it was a good gauge of nursing homes, according to Dr. Raul Pino, the health officer for The Florida Department of health in Orange County.

Private companies have also conducted random testing in nursing homes in Sumter County. We know its happening but we don’t know the frequency.

Even a small random sample can be telling for a community, according to Mokdad.

“You sample 1,000 at random of people who are moving around and you find out how many of them are infected and how many of them have the antibodies and you do it on a random basis on a weekly basis,” he said.

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