Fauci says task force ‘seriously considering’ new testing strategy

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci attends the daily coronavirus briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 09, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. unemployment claims have approached 17 million over the past three weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Friday that the White House coronavirus task force is “seriously considering” pool testing for Covid-19 and acknowledged to The Washington Post that the Trump administration’s current testing strategy has proven inadequate.

The proposal is still in the discussion stage and is not expected to be announced at the task force briefing later on Friday, Fauci told CNN.

Although President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the need for increased testing — and suggested last week that he asked for testing to be slowed down — the nation is experiencing a surge in confirmed cases, demonstrating the nation’s inability thus far to get a grip on the spiraling pandemic.

Fauci first mentioned the discussions in an interview with The Washington Post published on Friday morning.

“Something’s not working,” Fauci said of the nation’s current approach in an interview with The Post. “I mean, you can do all the diagramming you want, but something is not working.”

The way “pool testing” works is by mixing together several samples together into a “batch,” or pool, and then test the pooled sample with one diagnostic test. This way you can test a group of, for example, 25 people with one test rather than 25 separate diagnostic tests. If the test comes back negative, then you have eliminated 25 people with one test. If you get a positive result, you go back and test people individually.

This comes after the US Food and Drug Administration recommended such a strategy earlier this month to companies seeking to make tests for mass screening of people for coronavirus. And last month, local health authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan said they managed to test more than 9 million people using 6.6 million tests. Chinese media reported that Wuhan used a pooled testing approach.

“What you need to do is find the penetration of infected people in your society,” Fauci told The Washington Post. “And the only way you know that is by casting a broad net.”

Earlier this week, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx pointed to how other nations have used pooled testing and suggested that such an approach could drastically expand the nation’s knowledge of how and where the virus is spreading.

“We have gone from about 1,000 tests a day to now over 500,000 tests a day in less than three months, but still we need innovation in testing and I think it’s more than just more platforms and more tests,” Birx said during an online conference of the American Society for Microbiology on Monday. “If you look around the globe, the way people are doing a million tests or 10 million tests is they’re doing pooling.”

Birx added that pooled testing would allow for people to return to schools and workplaces with the ability to test on a frequent basis.

Fauci also told the Post on Friday that the high levels of asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus are forcing health experts to rethink how to approach mitigating the spread of Covid-19.

“We now know the level of virus in an asymptomatic person is about the same as the level of virus in somebody who has symptoms,” Fauci said. “So it’s like, oh my goodness, how do you address that?”