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Rubio urges pool testing in letter to Pence, Azar in wake of Florida's coronavirus case spike

Written by on July 2, 2020

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has requested the Trump administration reconfigure how hospital’s report on their bed capacity in regards to coronavirus positive patients, as well as expand the testing strategies.

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Rubio suggested the U.S. shift to a pool testing strategy that could enable millions of tests to be done, rather than just testing people who are symptomatic.

“Adopting pool testing, which was previously carried out during the AIDS epidemic, could allow us to test up to five million people per day, according to Dr. Deborah Birx,” Rubio wrote in his letter Thursday.

Birx is a physician and coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, has referred to pool testing in recent interviews, suggesting the task force is seriously considering implementing the program.

According to Stanford Medicine, pool testing means that health officials would be able to take tests from multiple people at a time, by storing a portion of each individual’s test, and then combining the other portions with the group’s. This allows for wider testing opposed to just testing one individual at a time. If a pool is found to be positive for coronavirus, then health experts can go back through and find which individual is infected.

Health officials and some lawmakers have been pushing for this method of testing — particuarily with kids who are less likely to be infected with the coronavirus. Offiicials say this is a more affordable way to see how many children could return to school in the fall.

“Such a strategy could allow the nation to continue to reopen, with appropriate safety measures, by expanding testing capacity to more quickly identify infected individuals,” Rubio wrote.

“Moreover, I believe pool testing can be effectively used in schools so that students are able to safely return to the classroom this fall, where they can gain from the well-documented benefits of in-person learning and socialization,” he wrote.

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Critics of pool testing warn that too many tests can dilute the pool and turn out false negatives.

Rubio has also requested that all hospitals that accept Medicare start providing “timely reports on their bed capacity” as well as the number of positive COVID patients in their care.

The senator said it would also be beneficial to see the number of people that are in the ICU due to the coronavirus, along with the percentage of patients that are COVID positive but admitted to the hospital for other reasons.

The Trump administration has not yet laid out a testing strategy, instead allowing each state to decide the best method that works for them.

But coronavirus cases are rising in 40 out of 50 states, according to a report by The Associated Press Thursday, and lawmakers are now facing the possibility of shutting down their economies once again.

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Rubio’s home state of Florida is seeing drastic spikes in coronavirus cases with 10,000 new cases reported Thursday, the single biggest one-day increase the state has seen since the pandemic started.

The new daily reported cases surpassed the daily increase in every European country, including Italy which was once the epicenter of the virus, according to reporting by Reuters.

“I ask that you provide a framework for developing a federal consortium of experts to implement a nationwide pool testing strategy in the immediate future,” Rubio said Thursday.

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