Although the number of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 rises every day, testing remains a key component to the country’s public health effort to thwart the spread of the virus. Testing is particularly important as more children—who are currently ineligible for a vaccine—return to school for in-person learning.
Today, Ginkgo Bioworks announced a collaboration with Quest Diagnostics to provide COVID-19 testing services for every K–12 student in the United States, every week. This announcement comes just one month after Ginkgo announced a partnership with Helix to provide testing to K–12 schools across the western United States.
Ginkgo’s platform offers pooled testing. They emphasize that pooled testing, where 5 to 25 samples are pooled into one sample, “dramatically reduces the cost of testing without sacrificing accuracy.” Children as young as kindergarten age swab their own noses. The price? Their website notes that one pooled test (with samples from 5 to 25 people) is $150, which breaks down to $6 per person for a pool of 25. As of March 2021, Ginkgo’s website notes that they currently provide their pooled testing service to 946 schools.
“Testing is an absolutely critical tool for responding to this pandemic, and we believe pooled testing is the modality that makes the most sense for students and teachers working to return to in-person learning,” said Jason Kelly, PhD, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks. “On a national level, our collaboration with Quest ensures that communities across America will have the capacity and the know-how to test every student, every week.”
Each organization brings unique strengths to the collaboration. Quest Diagnostics has capacity to perform 300,000 COVID-19 PCR tests a day through its widespread network of laboratories. Ginkgo has developed its Concentric platform to provide easy start-up and operation for any school seeking easy-to-use digital participant sign-up, data management, supplies, integration of follow-up testing regimes, and fully staffed support services. At the moment, Concentric serves schools primarily in Massachusetts and Maine, as well as city- and district-wide partnerships in Baltimore, Newark, and Milwaukee. Ginkgo’s integration of Quest labs into its nationwide lab network will expand its capacity, allowing Concentric by Ginkgo to serve every single student and teacher in America through pooled testing every week.
“Quest has been at the forefront of COVID-19 testing from the beginning of the pandemic, providing nearly 40 million COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests since March 2020. Now, we are applying our deep experience in COVID-19 testing to helping our nation’s kids and teachers get back to school more safely,” said James E. Davis, executive vice president, general diagnostics, for Quest Diagnostics. “With Ginkgo’s highly intuitive interface and data management system we can provide a school testing solution that is high quality, convenient, and cost efficient, anywhere in the United States.”
The services are based on recommendations provided by the Rockefeller Foundation in its K–12 National Testing Action Program: Connecting Schools with the Nation’s Leading Testing Companies to Safely Reopen (NTAP), which provides a testing roadmap for schools and cites both Quest and Ginkgo for their COVID-19 testing expertise.