The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a new awareness of individual and public health, with a steep learning curve over the past year on how to safeguard it.
A new company, TestZone, started last year out of CEO and co-founder David Greenstein’s home in Stamford, is pioneering in what it calls the health security sector, creating services for organizations, businesses and schools returning to offices and other in-person interaction.
It’s a startup, but don’t let that make you think it’s a wet-behind-the-ears group. The management team comprises seasoned professionals from the business, research, medical diagnostic and public health worlds, with experience ranging from Goldman Sachs to the National Institutes of Health.
“We’re a company founded on Zoom basically and that gave us the ability to have founders from all over the United States and the world,” Greenstein said.
Mike Reed, chief science officer and co-founder, has worked for over 20 years in diagnostic test development, and has even worked with the NIH to bring Covid-19 tests to market in the past year.
“The tests that everyone has been talking about the last 12 months, that’s been my career, developing those products,” Reed said.
Reed’s background was essential to seeing a need for a holistic health security model, especially when implementing systems of Covid testing in nontraditional settings.
“What we soon discovered was that none of the (rapid test) manufacturers were putting plans together to actually deliver their products to these nontraditional testing locations,” Reed said. “And so, through, I guess, a chance encounter or a chance introduction, I met David, who was thinking about how we are going to open up businesses and so on with testing.
“We formed tests to bring that capability, the expertise and the solutions to help businesses and schools deploy the tests and other technologies at their workplaces and sites to reopen safely. And so it’s just been this continuous evolution since then.”
Angus Thomson, senior adviser for equity and access for TestZone, has spent a huge portion of his career becoming an expert in vaccine confidence and hesitancy and translated that knowledge to the multilayered model TestZone offers clients.
“Vaccines don’t change anything unless they are delivered in programs, and it’s the same with tests,” Thomson said. “What we’ve seen from the beginning of this pandemic is first of all, a certain slowness to the regulatory process, bringing these online, but even when they become available, they’re not being used in programs. So they’re not really giving us meaningful insights and allowing us to potentially control the spread of the virus. And so underpinning our services was the idea that you really need a multilayered program of interventions to control a virus.”
The company’s main goal is to bring public health principles to the private sector, a mission that, its leaders found, was unique.
“We didn’t realize how much of a vacuum there was,” Greenstein said.
Of course, many building owners and businesses are taking new measures to curb the spread of Covid in workplaces. But the TestZone team argues that no one should expect a few measures here and there, without proper follow-up and systems in place, to be very effective.
“There’s a lot of ‘background noise’ of people — building owners and businesses — who are confusing the (individual) things, with full platforms,” Greenstein said. “So, I think that that there’s competition, but the competition doesn’t look like us. It’s not comprehensive. And our work that we do now is to convince people of what a real comprehensive process and program looks like.”
Along with that background noise, TestZone has also had to adapt its own strategies as public health guidance changes and more knowledge about Covid’s methods of infection becomes available.
“The guidelines change and sometimes they’re slow to change, based on the science,” Thomson said. “So we’ve seen a very quiet update to the CDC guidelines and also the WHO (World Health Organization) global guidelines acknowledging that the virus is transmitted by aerosols and therefore, can be transmitted by people who are more than six feet apart … We’ve been saying to our clients for some time that science suggests that this virus is transmitted by aerosols. So one of the values that we’re able to give is a kind of real-time update to our clients on what the science is telling us.”
TestZone is open to clients of all sizes, locations and industries, but has found particular success with the film industry so far, especially as streaming companies have continued to bring new content to viewers spending more time at home.
The industry is also highly unionized, creating a need for a thorough infectious disease safety system as filming started to resume during the pandemic.
“We became that last mile of bringing security to movie sets,” Greenstein said. “It was great for us, because it was national — we’ve done them all over the country.”
The team cited the difficulties of implementing a health security system on movie sets — where actors must often go unmasked and be close together — as a rapid learning experience. After starting there, they’ve started to expand into the commercial real estate space, particularly with bringing their services to office buildings making their returns, where the population they serve is consistent day to day.
“Where we think we can have the most success is anywhere in this country where there are known populations arriving, or the majority of the people arriving at a space are known populations, like an office block, where 90% of the people are the same people coming into every day,” Greenstein said. “As we develop our technologies and our platform, we’ll start venturing out into what we call unknown populations, like a giant stadium where 20,000 people arrive and have to get entered in 10 minutes.”
The New York metro area is a main market for TestZone, but opportunities abound around the country. Although Greenstein would not name it, he confirmed that the team is working with a large, national commercial lease broker. Along with streaming companies, the company is also currently serving large financial institutions, bioscience companies and large landlords.
TestZone itself will soon move to new headquarters in New York City, likely in late fall of this year, solidifying the team’s belief in TestZone’s future as a company, even after the Covid pandemic is behind us.
“We’re looking at how we can scan the horizon for new health threats, taking the longer view,” Thomson said. “There are different systems, open-access epidemiological systems that can pick up new threats early … So I think one of our broader offices is this horizon-scanning for clients so that we can alert them ahead of time to new heath threats, whether it’s viruses, bacteria, pollution, etcetera.”
Thinking of TestZone’s long-term role for its clients, Greenstein likens health security threats to any other security threat.
“I had office space in Manhattan before 9/11 and I had office space in Manhattan post-9/11,” he said. “And my building was one of those that was a little late to the game in changing into a secured lobby, but it happened eventually. And even though there was never another major terror attack in Manhattan, the level of scrutiny continued to be good … just because there was some basic security in the lobby.
“This Covid (can be) enough of a catalyst for people to understand that health risk is always ever-present,” Greenstein said. “And doing something to protect yourself and protect others from those ever-present threats is something that’s good for you.”
The team hopes to help make buildings places that contribute to the good health and efficiency of occupants, instead of places where disease can spread unchecked. It’s something many employers will have to or are starting to face in bringing workers back — workers who may be starting to question how their work and workplace affects their individual health.
“It’s always a hard sell to get people to invest in preparedness,” Thomson added. “But if anything could put that in people’s minds, it’s the current pandemic.”