A Non-Adaptive Combinatorial Group Testing Strategy to Facilitate Healthcare Worker Screening During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) Outbreak

John Henry McDermott, Duncan Stoddard, Peter Woolf, Jamie M Ellingford, David Gokhale, Algy Taylor, Leigh AM Demain, William G Newman, Graeme Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Regular SARS-CoV-2 testing of healthcare workers (HCWs) has been proposed to prevent healthcare facilities becoming persistent reservoirs of infectivity. Using monoplex testing, widespread screening would be prohibitively expensive, and throughput may not meet demand. We propose a non-adaptive combinatorial (NAC) group-testing strategy to increase throughput and facilitate rapid turnaround via a single round of testing.

Methods NAC matrices were constructed for sample sizes of 700, 350 and 250 with replicates of 2, 4 and 5, respectively. Matrix performance was tested by simulation under different SARS-CoV-2 prevalence scenarios of 0.1-10%, with each simulation ran for 10,000 iterations. Outcomes included the proportions of re-tests required and the proportion of true negatives identified. NAC matrices were compared to Dorfman Sequential (DS) approaches. A web application (www.samplepooling.com) was designed to decode results.

Findings NAC matrices performed well at low prevalence levels with an average number of 585 tests saved per assay in the n=700 matrix at a 1% prevalence. As prevalence increased, matrix performance deteriorated with n=250 most tolerant. In simulations of low to medium (0.1%-3%) prevalence levels all NAC matrices were superior, as measured by fewer repeated tests required, to the DS approaches. At very high prevalence levels (10%) the DS matrix was marginally superior, however both group testing approaches performed poorly at high prevalence levels.

Interpretation This testing strategy maximises the proportion of samples resolved after a single round of testing, allowing prompt return of results to staff members. Using the methodology described here, laboratories can adapt their testing scheme based on required throughput and the current population prevalence, facilitating a data-driven testing strategy.
Original languageUndefined
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2020

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