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Saratoga Hospital Team: Pooled COVID Testing Can Benefit Hospitals Nationwide

Mont Pleasant Middle School COVID-19 Testing Site
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Mont Pleasant Middle School COVID-19 Testing Site in Schenectady, NY

Hospitals nationwide are experiencing shortages of materials used in coronavirus testing. A medical team at Saratoga Hospital is now sharing its "pooled COVID-19 testing" method.
Officials with Saratoga Hospital say a policy of testing all patients before they’re admitted and isolating those who come back positive for the novel coronavirus has worked so well that program results appear in this month's Journal of Hospital Medicine, the official peer-reviewed journal of the Society of Hospital Medicine.

Dr. David Mastrianni is senior vice president of Saratoga Hospital Medical Group. He says the pioneering program saves time, preserves scarce resources and improves safety for patients and staff.

"Early on in the pandemic we thought it would be a good idea if we could test all the patients who were admitted to the hospital. And the reason for doing that was we could then take the people who had COVID and put them in a special unit and we could have everyone else be in the general hospital. And we thought that was particularly important as we learned there were asymptomatic folks who could eventually be shedding the virus. So that really made us want to test everyone, even if they didn't have the classic systems. So we started down that pathway but pretty soon we ran into the problem everybody's heard about, which is there wasn't a lot of testing available, and the testing was in short supply. And then if you sent the test out you had a long turnaround time."

Hospital officials found a way to get a rapid test and decided to try pooled testing in the Capital Region. The method was first tried in Germany. The local pilot program began in April.

"We had the machine but we had a very limited supply of cartridges for the machine. So the thought was 'why don't we try this pooled testing technique where you put in several patient swabs right into one cartridge, and then if that cartridge tests negative, all the patients are cleared.’ If the cartridge tests positive then you have to go back and individually figure out who the positive person was. But if you can find a group of patients who are in pretty low risk and have a pretty low rate you can do this technique very effectively and save a lot of cartridges."

The hospital says it was able to conserve over 2,150 test cartridges. The New York State Department of Health then granted emergency use authorization for Saratoga Hospital’s protocol, allowing other facilities to adopt the approach. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued its first emergency use authorization for sample pooling in diagnostic testing.

Elsewhere in the battle against COVID-19, new numbers from Albany County Monday show 2,304 confirmed positive cases to date, up nine from Sunday. County Executive Dan McCoy says three are health care workers, two reported traveling out of state, two had close contact with a positive case and one did not have a clear source of infection.

Positive cases continue from a July 4th party in the city of Albany.

"One positive person was linked to Hudson Park so that brings that total up to 47. There are 33 active cases in Albany County. There are 7,772 people who completed quarantine, and of those 2,271 tested positive for the virus and have recovered. That's an increase of four recoveries."

One person remains hospitalized, but not in the ICU, due to the virus, and the hospitalization rate remains at 0.04%.

McCoy and Mastrianni urge the public to wear masks, socially distance, get tested if you think you might be infected and cooperate with local health officials should they reach out to you.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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