To save time, Israel hopes to begin checking 8-10 virus test samples at once
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To save time, Israel hopes to begin checking 8-10 virus test samples at once

If one specimen in tube comes back positive for COVID-19, all others will be tested individually; Health Ministry hopes to roll out method within days

Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at Leumit Health Care Services branch in Or Yehuda, on July 14, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at Leumit Health Care Services branch in Or Yehuda, on July 14, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is reportedly expected to change its testing procedures to allow eight to ten samples to be examined at once in order to cut down on testing time and allow for more samples to be inspected.

The tests will be PCR tests — polymerase chain reaction tests — which directly detect viral nucleic acids. If one of the samples in the tube comes back positive for COVID-19, all of the remaining specimens will be tested individually, Ynet reported Thursday.

Health Ministry director Chezy Levy told the news site that he expected his office to roll out the method on a broader scale within days.

“It can save us hundreds or even thousands of tests that we will not have to do separately,” said Levy, adding that nursing homes would be among the first sites for which the method will be utilized.

Health Ministry director general Prof. Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020 (Flash90)

The report noted that the method is already being used at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital and that pilots have been launched at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center and Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.

Experts told the news site that the new method will be most effective with people who are not displaying symptoms, as the rate of positive results in those cases is significantly lower than among those showing symptoms. The Health Ministry had announced earlier this week that it was all but ceasing to test suspected asymptomatic cases as its labs had become overwhelmed by samples.

Earlier this week, the Health Ministry surpassed 30,000 daily tests for the first time.

The new method requires the diluting of the samples, which may affect the accuracy of the tests, according to the report.

Health officials observe a pilot program for a testing method that returns COVID-19 results in 15 minutes, in Lod on July 15, 2020 (Courtesy)

“This is a method that has a lot of potential, but it also comes with many difficulties that must be overcome,” Dr. Yotam Shenhar, who heads the Leumit HMO’s testing department, told Ynet.

“It is effective when the infection rate [the percent of positive tests] is low — no more than five percent.”

The infection rate has climbed above six percent in recent days.

“Therefore, this method is not suitable for now, but in a situation when the percentage of positives will be low again,” Shenhar said.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced that it had started trialing a COVID-19 test that claims to provide results in just 15 minutes.

A pilot program at a Lod coronavirus testing center has asked those seeking a virus test to submit to the current method as well as the newer US Food and Drug Administration-approved Sofia 2 test, the Health Ministry said.

Israel is currently holding back on widespread use of the 15-minute test due to concerns over its accuracy, citing the expedited FDA approval. But if researchers analyzing the data confirm its accuracy, it could be a game-changer.

In the coming days, the researchers will be able to determine whether the test method is reliable enough to be rolled out for general use, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

The Sofia 2 test was developed by Quidel Corp., an American firm based in San Diego.

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