What Parents at Ginkgo Have To Say About Pooled Testing

Our employees share their concerns, hopes, and advice for other parents

March 01, 2021

Andrea Camattari, an organism engineer at Ginkgo Bioworks, likes to joke with his wife that the COVID-19 pandemic is their son’s “Chernobyl moment.” The infamous nuclear meltdown in 1986 dominated Andrea’s pre-teen years in Italy. He remembers being upset that the disaster forbade him from eating strawberries for years — it riddled his favorite fruit with radiation. 

Of course, both that accident and the pandemic have taken so much more away than children’s preferred snacks. Nevertheless, many parents today are wondering what social scientists will say about how this period permanently affected their children’s development, just as they did back then. 

Experts widely agree that in-person schooling is critical for young people’s wellbeing. Remote learning is exacerbating racial and economic inequalities, and researchers found that school closures may even be associated with decreased life expectancy for US children. We need schools, and we need to safeguard the health of teachers, students, and staff. Regular testing is a crucial part of reducing the risk of outbreaks. Pooled classroom testing programs, such as the one offered by Concentric, are affordable solutions for doing just that.  

Parents who work at Ginkgo feel the same tensions that all parents feel when it comes to reopening schools. They’re concerned with keeping their families safe while minimizing whatever lasting negative effect the pandemic could have on their kids. And for many, a major concern is not overwhelming their own life as they try to keep up with work while dealing with their children not being at school. 

As Concentric’s pooled testing program rolls out across the United States, several Ginkgo parents reflected on what they want other parents to know about how pooled testing could help their families return to a sense of normalcy.

Why would I want to get my child swabbed every week if it’s painful? 

Sneha Srikrishnan is a Program Director at Ginkgo who has a two year old son. He’s in daycare but there are weeks when they have to keep him home because of positive cases, which presents its own challenges. When that happens, “we take turns at home with him during the day and then during the night, we work,” Sneha says. Like many parents, her sleeping hours have taken a hit from this pandemic. 

A public health worker once gave her toddler a COVID test, after which his nose bled for two days. Understandably, she never wants to let that happen again, and asks, “Why would I want to get my child swabbed every week if it’s painful?” 

Concentric’s pooled test avoids this by using short swabs to take a sample from inside the nostril, not far back in the nasal canal. Since the test is self-administered, the test taker can control the swabbing pressure to their own comfort level. Imagine inserting a short cotton swab no further into your nose than the tip of a finger can reach. That’s how deep we’re talking. 

Would testing in the classroom, where each child has to pull down their mask, allow infection to spread?

Yaoyu Yang, a Software Engineer at Ginkgo, has a two year old at home and a four year old who attends in-person school two days a week. It has become second nature for his four-year-old to wear a mask and keep distance from others when she’s in class. Yaoyu believes his daughter could easily adapt to taking a pooled test twice a week, if it meant she could attend class every day. But he has a lingering question. “The only concern I have is, does pooling tests allow for cross infection?”

Yaoyu worries that having each child pull down their mask in order to swab themselves could allow infection to spread, if there’s a positive lurking in the classroom. This is why Concentric’s onboarding materials include precise training for how to supervise swabbing while following the CDC’s social distancing guidelines. That includes sample floor plans that school administrators can use to set up their testing locations. 

What about time delays for test results? 

Like Yaoyu, Engineer Benji Chen has a third grader and seventh grader attending hybrid schooling, where they’re at home half the week. “My kids love it because for 3 days a week, they get to be in their pajamas,” he says. 

Nevertheless, Benji wants to see a clear plan that will allow his kids to attend in-person class five days a week. He sees weekly pooled testing as the possible way to make that happen. But he is concerned about the wait times between when the test is taken and when classrooms get their results. 

From the get go,” he says, “one of my concerns, which I’m frankly still uncertain about, has been how this testing can actually prevent the spread.” If a student is positive but doesn’t have symptoms, it’s possible that they’ll be able to spread the virus to others before they find out that the test came back positive. But by partnering with verified local labs across the country, Concentric is building the infrastructure to allow tests to be analyzed close to the schools themselves. This reduces the time it takes to ship samples to the lab, which means results can come back faster. 

What’s more important to understand, argues Renee Wegrzyn, VP of Business Development and mother of two, is that pooled testing is only one part of the equation. Even if there is an asymptomatic positive in the class, there are other layers of protection to help make sure that the infection isn’t passed on. “We have masks,” she says. “We have social distancing. All those things should still be in place even if kids are getting tests regularly in school.” 

Her advice to parents? Think of pooled testing as just another piece in the puzzle of reducing your family’s risk, rather than the only solution at play. 

Benefits that go beyond keeping schools open

Renee also stresses that pooled testing can energize kids and enrich their learning experience, because it helps them feel like they’re a part of protecting the health of those around them. Andrea Camattari agrees. He says, “We have to think of this as a game that we can solve together. If we can engage the children, playfully, in being part of this solution by swabbing themselves at school…, maybe we can help lift everyone’s spirits.” 

If you’re interested in bringing pooled testing to your school or district, Concentric can help! Click here to get started.