Error Correction Codes for COVID-19 Virus and Antibody Testing: Using Pooled Testing to Increase Test Reliability

by   Jirong Yi, et al.

We consider a novel method to increase the reliability of COVID-19 virus or antibody tests by using specially designed pooled testings. Instead of testing nasal swab or blood samples from individual persons, we propose to test mixtures of samples from many individuals. The pooled sample testing method proposed in this paper also serves a different purpose: for increasing test reliability and providing accurate diagnoses even if the tests themselves are not very accurate. Our method uses ideas from compressed sensing and error-correction coding to correct for a certain number of errors in the test results. The intuition is that when each individual's sample is part of many pooled sample mixtures, the test results from all of the sample mixtures contain redundant information about each individual's diagnosis, which can be exploited to automatically correct for wrong test results in exactly the same way that error correction codes correct errors introduced in noisy communication channels. While such redundancy can also be achieved by simply testing each individual's sample multiple times, we present simulations and theoretical arguments that show that our method is significantly more efficient in increasing diagnostic accuracy. In contrast to group testing and compressed sensing which aim to reduce the number of required tests, this proposed error correction code idea purposefully uses pooled testing to increase test accuracy, and works not only in the "undersampling" regime, but also in the "oversampling" regime, where the number of tests is bigger than the number of subjects. The results in this paper run against traditional beliefs that, "even though pooled testing increased test capacity, pooled testings were less reliable than testing individuals separately."


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