The COVID 19 pandemic affects us all: lockdown, reduced working hours, school closures, restrictions on scientific activities, etc. Initially, it was possible to trace infection routes and isolate the infected and those they had contact with. With greater spread of the virus and community transmission, infection rates rose and led to countrywide protective measures. In this scenario, where the tracing of individual infection paths is no longer possible, a massive expansion of testing capacities and mass testing of the population is the only viable exit strategy from countrywide lockdown, as this is the only way to detect and control any resurgence of viral spread at an early stage. However, with the currently available testing capacities, it would take almost three months to test just 10% of the population in Germany - far too long for effective, permanent control and containment of the infection.
In this project, members of Die Junge Akademie Timo de Wolff (Technische Universität Braunschweig), Dirk Pflüger (University of Stuttgart) and Martin-Immanuel Bittner (Arctoris) , in collaboration with Michael Rehme from the University of Stuttgart and Janin Heuer from the Technical University of Braunschweig, simulated various pool-based testing methods. The central idea is that samples are not tested individually, but are first combined in groups. These types of testing methods have already been used for decades in other contexts, for example in testing blood samples for the presence of HIV. Current laboratory studies show that these methods can also be used for COVID-19 testing. The Die Junge Akademie study shows that it would be possible to test 10% of the population in not more than 10 days. At the same time, this testing approach would also be more economical, because significantly fewer people would have to be sent into quarantine.
In the paper "Evaluation of Pool-based Testing Approaches to Enable Population-wide Screening for COVID-19", the project group on COVID-19 demonstrates which method is most effective for pooling, i.e. enables to identify the highest number of cases per test performed.
Furthermore, the project group models a screening scenario of the total population of five different countries with six different testing approaches and provides practical guidance for laboratories on which method to choose. For this purpose, the project group has created an online tool that enables users to model their situation in real-time: covid19.enfunction.com