SALT LAKE CITY — The coronavirus outbreak has created an added wrinkle for air travel, with many states and countries requiring quarantine periods or recent negative test results for entry. But a new COVID-19 testing service at Salt Lake City International Airport can ensure travelers don't have to stay in lockdown once they reach their destination.
For Cornell University student Michaela Thomas, who was awaiting a connecting flight on her way for a two-week visit to see her sister in Hawaii, the ability to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test is a great relief that prevents her from having to self-isolate upon arrival in the Aloha State.
"If you don't receive a negative test before you leave, you have to quarantine for 10 days, but if you receive a negative test before departure, you're allowed to bypass the quarantine," she said. "This is a great thing to have, especially if you do get tested at home and you don't get your results in time. You're able to still travel and not be held up in a city."
"It's a huge sense of relief. I thought I was going to have to spend another night in Salt Lake City waiting for my results from back home, so this is awesome."
Health and wellness company XpresSpa Group, in conjunction with airport officials, Wednesday announced the opening of an XpresCheck COVID-19 testing site at the airport. The pop-up facility is housed within the former XpresSpa location in Concourse A. The converted facility is equipped with four testing rooms with an expected ability to provide more than 300 tests per day.
"It was a significant business pivot for us coming out of spa and wellness treatments," explained Scott Milford, the chief operating officer for XpresSpa Group. "We provide two types of testing at the Salt Lake City location — we do polymerase chain reaction test or PCR, that's kind of the gold standard of COVID testing where they do a deep nasopharyngeal."
"Once they're taken, the samples get sent out to a lab for processing and the results are (available) usually within two to four days depending on volume," he said. "We also do a rapid nasal swab test, which is another nasopharyngeal swab. That test is actually put into a machine (on location) where it is molecularly amplified and they can give you a result within about 15 minutes."
The rapid test retails for $200 and is not covered by health insurance, while the PCR test costs $75 and is covered by most insurance plans, he said. These services are available to all airline passengers as well as all airport employees, including airline employees, contractors and workers, concessionaires and their employees, TSA officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, a news release stated.
XpresSpa operates COVID-19 testing sites in seven locations in the U.S.: Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City in the West, along with two locations at Boston Logan International Airport as well as Newark and their original testing facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
U.S. Air Force Airman Calie Lewis, who is stationed in Great Britain and also traveling on holiday to Hawaii, said she was pleasantly surprised to come across the testing facility in the airport.
"It was crazy because I just got off my flight to walk to my gate and I was thinking, 'Where am I going to go?' I know I'm going to have to get my test there and have to wait for it," she said. "So literally getting off a flight and seeing this here was awesome. Hawaii is really strict on its COVID testing and who they're allowing (the results) from and this (company) is the last one on the list, so it all worked out."
She said being able to get the rapid test and the results so quickly is a big relief not having to worry about quarantining during her visit.
We live in a new time now, so you have to kind of put that in your budget and know that you're going to have to pay a little extra to go anywhere.
"Absolutely, because now I can go have fun and be able to walk into the airport and just have my test results readily available rather than just like saying, 'Hey, I'll quarantine for 10 days' and then missing out on an entire vacation."
She mentioned that despite the added expense of the rapid test, having peace of mind during her travels was well worth the cost.
"We live in a new time now, so you have to kind of put that in your budget and know that you're going to have to pay a little extra to go anywhere," Lewis said. "So if I know that I'm going to have to spend the $200 to get a test, then I know to put that in my budget beforehand so I'm not struggling to get to the vacation. That's what it comes down to."