Pool Testing Method At Ottoson Proves Effective


On Tuesdays, 8th grade students conduct pool testing. Each test is conducted by the individual themselves and then given to a lab for larger pool testing //Photo Credit Ruhaan S.

Sol Y.

During these uncertain times, in the midst of a pandemic, Ottoson Middle School’s first priority is to make sure that all students and staff are healthy and safe. One of the ways that the school system is doing this is through COVID pool testing. Pool testing is a procedure where mass testing is carried out and swabs are studied in batches, rather than being assessed individually. Evaluating COVID tests in batches provides quicker results and a broader idea of the health of students and staff overall. 


In an email, Ottoson nurse Mrs. Barker, explained the benefits of pool testing in comparison to individual testing, saying “[Arlington Public Schools (APS) believed] that pool testing was a reasonable, fiscally sustainable way forward to continue and expand the testing for staff and to include students.” Pool testing is a simpler way to test students and staff in large groups, and the results are easier to analyze. Mrs. Barker continued, “It is essential to identify and isolate positive cases to reduce community spread. Pool testing and subsequent reflex testing will continue to do this with a significant financial benefit.” Pool testing is an affordable, reliable way of making sure that no one in the school building has contracted COVID-19, and it is more appropriate for schools than individual testing. 


That said, pool testing does not come without controversy. There are experts who recommend individual testing instead since it becomes significantly easier to identify and quarantine people who test positive for the virus. More individualized testing can help prevent community spread and spur faster COVID treatment. Also, pool testing does not provide school nurses or scientists with specific data such as who tested positive, or how many people contracted the virus.


Mrs. Barker also explained what would happen if a positive COVID case was detected in a pool sample, a possibility which we must be prepared for. “Arlington Public Schools are notified of the positive pool and a secondary (reflex) testing is performed to identify which participant(s) has the virus. The names of participants are not shared … [and] are kept confidential,” she explained to the Insider. “Staff and/or students in a positive pool will be re-tested with a BinaxNow test, which gives a rapid result.” Barker then proceeded to state the sequence of events that would play out in a scenario where someone tests positive in a COVID pool sample. 


First, if a group or class pool comes back positive, all of the people inside the classroom will be given an individual COVID test. Directly afterward, because all the people inside the affected cluster are considered a close contact, the entire cluster will be sent home to quarantine for eleven to fourteen days. However, if an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 outside of Ottoson, necessary measures will be taken depending on who has been in contact with the infected person. The school nurse and administration will administer additional testing as necessary. 


Seeing how pool testing has been an effective method that has kept us safe for as long as it has been enforced, pool testing will continue for the rest of the year. 


It goes without saying that the school administration and nurses have been working and doing their absolute best to keep the student body as safe and healthy as possible during the pandemic. This serves as a collective thank-you from the Insider to Ottoson nurses, Mrs. Barker and Ms. Greco, who are doing their very best to keep us safe.