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Pioneering San Antonio COVID-19 Lab to Test Thousands of People Per Day to Create COVID-19 Safety Zones

Unprecedented lab capacity allows for rapid testing of asymptomatic “silent spreaders,” the key to re-opening schools and the economy.

Community Labs, a new nonprofit organization, has launched an innovative laboratory in San Antonio, changing how traditional COVID-19 testing is currently conducted by advances in speed, capacity, accuracy and price, along with a less invasive testing process. Inspired by the work of Scientists to Stop COVID-19 and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Community Labs will start with a capacity of 600 tests a day, scale to 12,000 tests a day, and have the potential to scale significantly in the near future. 

Community Labs is a collaborative effort co-founded by Graham Weston, former CEO and Chairman of Rackspace Technology (NASDAQ: RXT) and Founder of the 80|20 Foundation; J. Bruce Bugg Jr., Chairman and Trustee of The Tobin Endowment; and J. Tullos Wells, Managing Director of The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation. Weston is Chairman of Community Labs, with Bugg and Wells serving as Vice Chairmen. 

Through its improved testing program, the new organization will help identify asymptomatic, COVID-19 individuals in a defined “micro-population,” such as schools or the workplace.  That will allow non-symptomatic members to safely quarantine, thereby stopping the virus from spreading and allowing for the rest of the population to remain safe. Community Labs will serve the greater San Antonio metro area. 

The initial lab is housed and operated by San Antonio nonprofit, BioBridge Global, with critical collaboration from UT Health San Antonio. The Community Labs testing process uses a PCR test, considered the gold standard for detection of COVID-19 virus. The test has been validated and shown to attain the required FDA level for sensitivity and accuracy. It employs a swab in the front of the nostril. Utilizing innovative supply chain solutions, the price of each test will be materially lower than current market prices, with a goal of scaling the price to less than $35 per test. 

“Until now, testing for asymptomatic carriers was not available, as testing facilities across the country have focused on symptomatic carriers of COVID-19,” Weston said. “Utilizing the Community Labs testing innovation, businesses and schools can quickly create their own COVID-19 Safety Zones by providing frequent, lower-cost assurance testing of every person in their defined micro-population, with test samples collected on-site and results available within 24 hours. This level of testing allows the detection of asymptomatic, silent spreaders currently responsible for infecting up to 50% of new COVID-19 cases.” 

The 80|20 Foundation, Kronkosky Charitable Foundation and The Tobin Endowment have contributed a combined $2.5 million to kick off the effort. 

“We have the opportunity to prove what is possible for a community, a city and eventually the state of Texas and even the nation,” Bugg said. “I am excited to partner with Community Labs and this team so we can get children back in school, people back to work and lead our state in recovering from this pandemic.” 

Wells said, “We agreed immediately at the request of Graham Weston to join the 80|20 Foundation and The Tobin Endowment to support this effort, believing it to be one of the most consequential community efforts the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation has ever undertaken.  This will have the most immediate impact to gets kids back to school, parents back to work and our community safely back to normal.”

BioBridge Global has provided critical insight, know-how, infrastructure, and teams with deep experience in high-volume testing as well as experience working with the FDA. BioBridge is the parent entity of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and related nonprofit subsidiaries.  

“The ability to find asymptomatic carriers in a presumed healthy population is a critical element in the multi-faceted solution that is needed to address this pandemic,” said Dr. Rachel Beddard, Chief Medical Officer of BioBridge Global. “I am pleased that our team was able to develop this level of quality in a test as well as the ability to provide results in 24 hours. This will help identify asymptomatic individuals and move them into quarantine so they can avoid spreading the disease.”

Weston said, “We want to help make San Antonio the safest city in America through our assurance testing strategy. We also hope to inspire other cities to set up their own labs and will freely share our process and lessons learned with those who ask.” 

Schools, businesses, and organizations who partner with Community Labs to test their asymptomatic populations should continue to comply with all required safety measures in their buildings and workspaces – wearing masks, sanitizing hands and surfaces, and social distancing.

Those interested in learning more about Community Labs and how they might implement this strategy in their school or workplace may visit Community-Labs.org or contact info@community-labs.org or 210-866-6935.