SAN FRANCISCO—On Monday, August 24, the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) disclosed plans in a press release to launch the first rapid COVID-19 testing program for its employees in the U.S.

SFO has partnered with Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care, the largest non-profit hospital provider in California. Dignity Health St. Mary’s Medical Center is an accredited, non-profit community hospital that has been in operation since 1857. Their website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page for the Return to Work Program reads: “We offer rapid diagnostic (nasal swab) and antibody (serology blood) tests.”

The healthcare organization claims that rapid test results are available within 15 minutes at their facilities. According to SFO Public Information Officer Doug Yakel, the international terminal based testing facility can return test results in less than an hour, and that time is estimated to shorten in the future. 

Technicians at the testing site use an Abbott Labs device to analyze samples obtained using a nasal swab. Abbott Labs said the device “amplifies the RNA hundreds of millions of times to make the virus detectable — returning test results in 13 minutes or less,” according to a post on the Abbot website titled “STEPS HOW TO USE ID NOW EFFECTIVELY” under the “PRODUCTS & INNOVATION” tab. 

SFO will be the first airport in the United States to offer rapid testing for COVID-19. Testing at airports is available throughout the country, but does not include rapid testing. At Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, COVID-19 testing is available to passengers entering the state, with results available within two to six days, compared to the results at SFO available within less than an one hour. 

Todd Latz, CEO of GoHealth Urgent Care spoke about the healthcare company’s partnership with SFO stated:

“SFO has conducted a very thoughtful process as it takes a leading role in creating a safe and healthy work environment for airport employees and other businesses that operate within SFO, as well as their customers, and we and our partner, Dignity Health, are excited to support those efforts.”

COVID-19 testing sights have been appearing abroad. The German government is funding a network of testing sites at airports in Frankfurt am Main, Berlin (both Tegel and Schoenefeld airports), and Dusseldorf. 

Mandatory testing has been available at airports in Dubai, Istanbul, Hong Kong and both airports in Tokyo. Each of those airports have employed rapid testing programs for arriving passengers, delivering results to health authorities and the traveler within hours.

SFO and Dignity Health hope to expand services to passengers.

In an SFO press release, David Klein, MD, MBA, and President of Dignity Health’s St. Mary’s SFO Medical Clinic said, “We’ve been providing medical care to travelers and employees at San Francisco International Airport for over two decades through St. Mary’s SFO Medical Clinic.”

In the light of the pandemic Klein expressed his pleasure “to expand our relationship with San Francisco International through this additional partnership providing employers and employees much-needed support to safeguard healthy returns to work during this pandemic.”