As the pandemic engulfed the world in March 2020, no one was thinking much about getting a manicure. So XpresSpa Group, an airport chain that offers mani-pedis and massages to travelers, closed all 50 of its locations. To survive the next two years, it would have to pivot. It turned to the most obvious next market: COVID-19 testing.
Through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and synthetic biology firm Ginkgo Bioworks, XpresSpa launched a surveillance operation to hunt for new and emerging COVID-19 variants among international travelers. Over the last eight months, the trio has tested tens of thousands of passengers arriving from more than 15 countries around the globe. Despite rules that require travelers to produce a negative COVID-19 test result in order to enter the U.S., the collaboration routinely finds both positive cases and new mutations.