XpresSpa Group, Inc., has announced that its XpresCheck™ subsidiary has been authorized to proceed with a $2 million dollar, 8-week pilot program with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through its XpresCheck COVID-19 testing company.
Under the 8-week pilot program, conducted in collaboration with Concentric by Ginkgo, XpresCheck will conduct biosurveillance monitoring, initially from India, at three major U.S. airports operating XpresCheck COVID-19 testing facilities, which will be aimed at identifying existing and new SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the highly contagious Delta variant and other new variants surfacing in the U.S.
The airports in the trial are New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
Doug Satzman, chief executive officer of XpresSpa Group, said the program is being designed to help track the influx of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and create a mechanism to be deployed against infectious diseases going forward. “Following the launch of this CDC-backed biosurveillance program, XpresCheck aims to further expand the relationship with the CDC and extend the program into all U.S. major international airports, with flights arriving from any high-risk countries in the near future.”
Passengers will be offered a free PCR test, which will be combined with 5-10 other samples and sent to a lab network to determine the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If the presence of the virus is detected in the pooled sample, the pathogens in those samples will be genomically sequenced to identify the presence of any new variants, such as the Delta variant.
“CDC is collaborating with partners at XpresCheck and Ginkgo Bioworks to conduct enhanced SARS-CoV-2 surveillance among international travelers. The program will enable near-real-time detection of novel COVID-19 variant strains,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch.
The Delta variant, previously known as the B.1.617.2 variant, has contributed to a surge of COVID-19 cases and has already spread across the globe. It is believed this variant may spread even more quickly than the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as Alpha, which was first identified in the United Kingdom and sparked a wave of new cases globally. The CDC has recently upgraded the Delta variant to a “variant of concern,” and has found that the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus that causes COVID-19 and that it might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated people. .
XpresCheck’s collaboration with Concentric by Ginkgo will feature two testing modalities for passengers that enter the U.S. every week aboard flights from India. The first modality will consist of pooled testing of passengers arriving on direct flights from India. The second phase of the program consists of take-home PCR tests that some participating travelers may pick up at the airport and take within 3-5 days after their arrival and mailed to the designated lab. Both tests will help the CDC understand which variants are making their way to the U.S.
Traveler participation will be critical and XpresSpa said airline partners like United Airlines and Air India, which handle much of the inbound traffic from India to the launch airports in the U.S. (JFK, EWR, and SFO), have been very supportive and have taken a proactive role in making this pilot program a success.