You can now buy a Covid-19 test at Oakland International Airport just like you would a can of Coke or a bag of M&M’s. For less than a week, black-and-white vending machines in each of the airport’s terminals have been dispensing RT-PCR saliva tests that have been approved under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
For travelers, this is good timing. Right now, airline passengers are not required to show a negative Covid-19 test before boarding a domestic flight, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is apparently considering it. “We are actively looking at it,” said Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, on a call with reporters last week.
Wellness 4 Humanity, the company behind the DIY-test vending machines, is currently in discussions with other major airports across the country, including at Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania. The company also has partnerships with Marriott, IHG Hotels & Resorts and a slew of other organizations, including professional sports teams like the Atlanta Hawks.
Like many U.S. airports, Oakland airport has been offering curbside testing for several months. “We realized that travelers are going through a tough time right now, especially as we all navigate this COVID pandemic,” an Oakland airport spokesman told the Los Angeles Times. “We wanted to give travelers another option for testing.”
For Wellness 4 Humanity, the goal is to roll out 1,000 of its “automated stores,” also known as vending machines, throughout the U.S. in the coming months. Future locations will include subway stations, entertainment venues and more hotels and airports, as well as college campuses, grocery stores, and shopping malls.
“These vending machines are a significant milestone in helping to provide Americans with easier access to fast, highly accurate Covid-19 testing,” said Lian Nguyen Pham, CEO and co-founder of Wellness 4 Humanity. “We’ve seen similar vending machines placed in highly populated, highly trafficked areas of Hong Kong and the United Kingdom to help contain the spread of the virus and, given the surge in cases the U.S. is currently experiencing, we hope to roll out our vending machines as soon as possible.”
Wellness 4 Humanity’s vending machines make the tests available through contactless purchase and payment on a mobile device.
As of now, the vending machines sell only a saliva RT-PCR test kit, which requires sending your sample to a partner lab using a prepaid FedEx shipping label. Customers receive their results within 48 hours with 99% accuracy. Results are sent to customers via the TRUSTPASS app. The saliva test sells for about $150.
At a later date, a slightly cheaper rapid antigen test kit will also be available. The antigen test sells for about $120 and provides results in just 15 minutes, with no shipping, lab work or app download required. Wellness 4 Humanity says this test has 97.4% accuracy and 100% specificity, meaning false negatives are unlikely.
The testing kit vending machines were developed in partnership with San Francisco-based Swyft, Inc., a software and technology services company that works with retailers and brands. Swyft had previously partnered with New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to place PPE-dispensing vending machines in 10 subway stations throughout the city. Other major clients include CVS Pharmacy, 7-Eleven, and Best Buy.
Wellness 4 Humanity says travelers can soon expect to see these vending machines popping up in major cities across the U.S., from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Boston and Dallas.
Starting this week, for example, New York City residents and visitors will be able to buy Covid tests out of two vending machines at a brick-and-mortar Wellness 4 Humanity location in at 225 West 34th Street in midtown Manhattan, just a block from Penn Station.
If your local airport, train station or hotel wants a vending machine, $15,000 buys a six-month lease, including delivery, set up, software integration, and full stocking of the vending machine with the test kits.
But be prepared to take a number, though. According to Wellness 4 Humanity’s website, the vending machines are currently sold out.