Can schools return to normal? Lenexa lab’s plan to expand COVID-19 testing may help

Shawnee Mission masks

Lenexa-based Clinical References Laboratory is partnering with a Boston-based biotech firm to expand COVID-19 testing in schools across the U.S. The companies hope to use a pool testing method, where samples from groups of students and teachers are tested at once. Above, masked students in class in the Shawnee Mission School District. File photo.

Clinical Reference Laboratory, a Lenexa-based clinical testing lab, is partnering with Concentric by Ginkgo, a biosecurity and public health effort, to expand COVID-19 pool testing within K-12 schools.

The announcement comes as the current school year nears its finish, but as districts start to look towards next year, when they hope to return to full-time, in-person learning for all students.

Part of that hope rests on being able to identify students and teachers who may be carrying COVID-19 in order to limit the disease’s spread.

Pool testing solution

CRL’s partnership will allow Gingko the ability to test up to 1.8 million more students and teachers on a weekly basis, according to a press release.

It is intended to benefit thousands of K-12 schools nationwide that are considering a return to in-person learning, according to the release.

Robert Thompson, CRL chief executive officer, said in the release that pool testing “is the best strategy at this stage in the pandemic.”

CRL gained notoriety last year for developing a saliva-based COVID-19 tests that ultimately was used by professional sports teams and Hollywood productions. 

Pool testing is a method that has already been used in some schools this year. It takes samples from multiple individuals — say, all the students in the same class — and mixes together to test for COVID-19.

Testing in this way can allow schools to test more students while using less resources and still get a relatively accurate picture of potential spread in their buildings.

The CRL and Gingko partnership aims to support thousands of schools across the U.S. in their reopening efforts, he said.

“With more than 40 years in the testing diagnostics industry, CRL will leverage its extensive expertise and advanced technology to deliver timely and accurate results so every student and teacher can return to school,” Thompson said. .

CRL’s ability to deliver tests results in a timely and accurate manner is an important piece of the process for schools to remain open more reliably than they have been this year.

Quick mass testing in schools will enable officials to track and mitigate community spread in the case of positive results, according to CRL.

Gingko’s pooled testing model is supported by a Rockefeller Foundation initiative.

Rockefeller partnered with 21 manufacturers for this initiative, which aims to help implement $10 billion allotted in the recently approved American Rescue Plan to routine school testing.

“This partnership and the recent funding by the Biden administration demonstrates just how impactful collaboration between public and private organizations can be in supporting this vital phase of the pandemic response,” Kelly said in the release. “Simply put, it means that America can test every student, every week.”