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CDC Program to Detect New COVID Variants Launches at SFO in Partnership with XpresSpa and Ginko Bioworks

October 13, 2021 Airport No Comments
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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has launched a pilot program at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to enable near-real-time detection of new COVID-19 variants among travelers entering the United States. Through a collaboration with XpresCheck COVID-19 testing company and Ginkgo Bioworks, the CDC pilot program establishes an enhanced voluntary COVID surveillance among international travelers arriving at SFO. The CDC is launching similar programs at JFK and Newark airports.

“We are proud to be chosen for this pilot program with the Centers for Disease Control,” said SFO Airport Director Ivar C. Satero. “Throughout the pandemic, SFO has been a leader in enhanced screening, onsite testing, and vaccination programs. This latest initiative represents another step forward in the effort to identify, track, and ultimately mitigate potential new variants of COVID.”

“CDC appreciates SFO’s support of this important collaboration with XpresCheck and Gingko Bioworks to conduct enhanced SARS-CoV-2 surveillance among arriving international travelers,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch. “The program will enable near-real-time detection of novel COVID-19 variant strains.”

Doug Satzman, XpresSpa Group CEO, stated, “We are excited to be launching this new pilot with XpresCheck at SFO Airport as new variants are discovered. Additionally, we are proud to be a trusted partner with the Centers for Disease Control.”

All air passengers coming to the  United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States.

XpresCheck has the capacity to conduct testing in major airports where international travelers commonly arrive. Concentric by Gingko has experience in testing and sequencing for COVID-19 in many settings such as in schools.

This pilot project, which is unrelated to existing testing orders or travel restrictions, will invite passengers to volunteer for two types of tests. The first is a “pooled” PCR test, meaning several passengers’ samples are combined and tested as a group and sequenced if positive. The second type of test involves providing passengers with an at-home specimen collection kit that passengers submit for an individual PCR test 3-5 days after arrival into the United States. This time frame is in line with CDC’s current recommendation that all travelers get tested 3-5 days after international travel. Positive results will also be sequenced. CDC will use the results for surveillance purposes. Travelers will be notified of their positive PCR results; those whose specimens were tested as a pool will be notified that someone in the pool tested positive and recommended to retest.

In July 2021, SFO served as the launch site for a pilot program hosted by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to equip travelers with registered self-testing kits allowing the CDPH to monitor for COVID-19 variants in the state and develop mitigation strategies.

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