Know Your Testing Terminology

COVID-19 testing is free on campus this fall for students. Baseline. Pooling. Surveillance. Not familiar with these testing terms? You're not alone. Here are some helpful definitions:

baseline testing
The initial testing of individuals within a particular community who generally do not have known or suspected exposure to COVID-19. Baseline testing helps health professionals get a sense of the virus's prevalence in the community and of future testing needs.

diagnostic testing
Performed when there is a reason to suspect that an individual may be infected with COVID-19. For example, if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have reason to believe you were recently exposed to the virus, a health professional will run a diagnostic test.

pooling or sample pooling
A testing technique—also referred to as pool testing, pooled testing, or batch testing—that allows for more people to be tested quickly using fewer resources.

During baseline and surveillance testing, Michigan Tech student samples will be pooled in groups of five. The University's COVID-19 lab will take a portion from each of the five student samples, combine them to create a pool, and run one test on the pool.

If COVID-19 is detected in your pool, each sample will then be tested again individually. If COVID-19 is not detected in your pool, no further action will be taken, and your test results will be reported as completed.

  • If you get a "completed" test result, that means COVID-19 was not detected in your pool.
  • If you get a "not detected" test result, that means COVID-19 was not detected in your individual sample. 
  • If you get a "detected" test result, that means COVID-19 was detected in your individual sample. 

Download our pooled testing flowchart or read more about Michigan Tech's plan for pooled testing for students.

screening testing
This is different from diagnostic testing. It's performed even if there is no reason to suspect an individual has been infected with COVID-19. Screening tests help identify infected individuals who may be contagious even though they do not have symptoms or have yet to develop them. This allows health professionals and the individual to take measures that can prevent further transmission. Screening testing is part of baseline testing.

surveillance testing
Ongoing activities that help monitor for a community- or population-level outbreak of COVID-19. Surveillance testing might sound ominous, but it's actually a common practice for public health officials who want to assess local infection rates and trends. Surveillance testing is used to gather information at the population level (rather than an individual level). With surveillance testing, health professionals can sample a certain percentage of a population to get a sense of whether COVID-19 infections are increasing or decreasing. It also lets them know how well mitigation efforts—like social distancing—are working.

Find more information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

non-surveillance testing
Testing of symptomatic and physician referred individuals. Also includes self-reports.