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COVID-19 testing takes to the streets

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Need a COVID-19 test? For many people, that’s easier said than done. And even if tests are available, how do you get them to the communities that need them most?

Larry Borden, founder and CEO of Aardvark Mobile Tours, is working to solve that problem. The company’s latest venture, Aardvark Mobile Health, is launching this summer in response to the pandemic.

Now operating in four countries, Aardvark provides customized consumer experiences on promotional tours for brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Nike, and more. Founded in Huntingdon Valley in 2004, Aardvark Mobile Tours moved to its current home base in west Conshohocken (about 30 minutes northwest of Philadelphia) a few years ago.

An Aardvark Mobile Tours experience, pre-pandemic

But like any industry that relies on large gatherings of people, event production was hit hard by the pandemic.

“To be honest, for a good month I was as close to depressed as you can get,” says Borden of the early days of the crisis.

But then something clicked: One Saturday morning, he was reading a news story about an Israeli hospital system that began converting small shipping containers into mobile COVID-19 testing facilities. The units lacked AC and their own power source, and had to be moved by crane, but they were still welcome progress for communities in need.

“We’ve all heard of drive-through [testing],” says Borden, “but not everyone has a car,” or time to sit in lines that, according to news reports, can be several hours long.

Aardvark develops all kinds of specialty vehicles — why not adapt to this urgent healthcare need?

“We snapped to it,” he recalls. “We came up with blueprints and built it here in Pennsylvania.”

We could be at a nursing home in the morning, testing employees or residents, and in the afternoon, we could be in an apartment complex.Larry Borden, Aardvark Mobile Tours

Aardvark Mobile Health was born. The company is in the process of launching its full online presence, including a website and social media channels, and is already in talks with federal, state, and county government officials across the country.

Each truck, operated by one Aardvark staffer, can quickly configure for COVID testing or screening. A built-in generator ensures an air-conditioned space for healthcare workers, who operate from behind a sealed glass window with gloved apertures for their hands. Patients wait their turn on foot outside, in a distanced line.

A beta truck is already operating in Miami Beach.

“Some nurses are outside all day, lapped up in PPE, and it’s extremely hot,” says Borden of traditional testing facilities in that area. “You want to talk about heroes? They stand outside in subtropical temperatures, almost passing out because they’re so hot.”

His goal is to launch 500 mobile testing and screening trucks across the country.

“We could be at a nursing home in the morning, testing employees or residents, and in the afternoon, we could be in an apartment complex,” he explains. Then maybe an Eagles training camp on the weekend — or any place suddenly identified as a hot zone.

He’s careful to note that Aardvark does not provide healthcare services. The company handles all the backend management of the mobile units, including vehicle and generator maintenance, insurance, daily logistics, and arrival and opening times. The client’s healthcare workers just have to come onboard and focus on their own jobs.

“My dad always used to say, let the baker bake the bread,” explains Borden.

Aardvark Mobile Health trucks will be flexible: configured for testing and screening now, but easily convertible to vaccine trucks in the future, or other kinds of support reaching beyond the pandemic (think a mobile relief station for communities hit by a hurricane).

Borden feels good about helping to meet this need.

“Not only are we able to support our business and all the lives that depend on this business, we’re able to support a really good cause.”

ALAINA JOHNS is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and the Editor-in-Chief of BroadStreetReview.com, Philly’s hub for arts, culture and commentary.

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