Dr. Deborah Birx urges Florida to start pool testing for coronavirus. Here’s what that means

Samples from small group tested together to determine if anyone has the virus

TAMPA, Fla. – A key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force says she wants the State of Florida to begin pool testing groups of people for the coronavirus.

Dr. Deborah Birx traveled with Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis to Tampa on Thursday to meet with medical leaders. Birx is a world-renowned medical expert in infection disease and vaccine research, according to the U.S. State Department.

While in Florida, she urged the staff at the University of South Florida to begin pool testing for the virus.

“That is our breakthrough that we’ve been working on for three weeks,” Birx told reporters. “We think that Florida and this university in this particular county is a great place to start. "

According to Birx, pool testing takes samples from a small group of people -- typically five or 10 people -- and they are all tested for the coronavirus together in the same sample.

If the combined sample comes back negative for COVID-19, then the entire group is cleared.

If the combined sample comes back positive, then health officials would use contact tracing and test each individual.

“One way is going into neighborhoods and testing whole families into a single tube,” Birx said. “If anybody is positive, you would go back and use your contact tracing to test everyone in the household.”

She said it would also be cost-effective in a school setting.

“It can also be used in screening large numbers of school students.” she said. “You can put 10 into one tube. You can do a classroom with three tests.”

She said pool testing would expand testing from 5,000 people per day to 50,000 people per day in Florida.

News 6 contacted school districts, health departments and universities around Central Florida to find out if this is a method they plan to use.

At the time of this story, Marion County Public Schools, the Florida Department of Health in Marion County and Valencia College said they do not plan on conducting pool testing.

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.