Iceland Will Combine COVID-19 Samples to Increase Testing Capacity Skip to content

Iceland Will Combine COVID-19 Samples to Increase Testing Capacity

By Yelena

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing
Photo: A screenshot from RÚV. Border testing drills at Keflavík Airport, 2020..

The National University Hospital’s Virology Department will process COVID-19 test samples in groups of 10 in order to raise its testing capacity to 2,000 samples per day, RÚV reports. Private pharmaceutical company deCODE genetics announced two days ago it would halt its participation in Iceland’s COVID-19 testing after July 13, leading many to question whether the nation would be able to continue screening travellers entering from abroad for COVID-19. The National University Hospital’s Virology Department is the only institution in Iceland equipped to process COVID-19 samples, besides deCODE genetics.

Iceland began testing travellers entering the country on June 15 – from that date, passengers could opt between a COVID-19 test upon entry or 14-day quarantine. Some 25,950 tests have been administered at the borders since that date, finding only 11 active infections. As the infection rate is so low, Maríanna Garðarsdóttir, director of the National University Hospital’s research service department, says the Virology Department will being testing 10 samples at once in order to increase its capacity from a few hundred to around 2,000 tests per day.

If Group Tests Positive, Individual Samples are Tested

Due to huge global demand, Iceland is not expecting additional machinery for processing COVID-19 samples until October. “While we don’t have the capacity that we wish for, this is the main method we can use,” Maríanna told RÚV. Asked whether the hospital will be able to make the necessary changes by next week, when deCODE will pull out of the border testing program, she answered “We don’t have a choice. We’ll just do our best.”

The method works such that ten samples are mixed together and tested. If the combined sample comes up negative, there is no need for further testing. If it comes up positive, then each of the ten samples will be tested individually to determine which of them is (or are) positive. In a briefing yesterday, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated there is little risk that this testing method is less precise than testing one sample at a time.

May Call in Vacationing Staff

The hospital’s director Páll Matthíasson stated that 18 hospital staff members that had been processing samples at deCODE will now be transferred to the Virology Department. Nevertheless, he added it was likely staff would be asked to cut short or postpone vacations.

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