ProAm founder and CEO, James Murphy, shares insight into how they put COVID-19 testing front and center to make live events a pandemic reality
Live events are back: A case study on how to reopen doors for sports and entertainment during the pandemic
When the world came to a standstill in March of 2020 and organizers were forced to abruptly cancel events, millions of disappointed fans were left with tickets to nowhere. Beyond cancelled plans, shutdown also meant athletes, performers, production staff, and the many others who keep the sports and entertainment industries running were suddenly out of work. An option to safely gather in groups became the key to getting fans back in the seats and players back in the game.
ProAm Sports Medicine — backed by established experience in coordinating medical services for combat sports — recognized this critical need and quickly rose to the occasion by pivoting their focus to COVID-19 testing. Here, ProAm founder and CEO, James Murphy, shares insight into how they put COVID-19 testing front and center to make live events a pandemic reality.
Letting people in and keeping the virus out
When much of the world was still in lockdown, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) organization successfully hosted a live event, welcoming spectators to the first major mixed martial arts gathering since COVID-19 had caused widespread cancellations just months earlier. As a long-time UFC partner, ProAm immediately recognized an opportunity to build on the UFC’s strategy, emulating their model around pre-event screening of athletes, employees, and attendees using a spectrum of test options. This systematic approach created a pandemic safe space, or “bubble,” to bring audiences back to other combat sports.
Once ProAm got to work, their testing efficiency and focus on safety quickly set the stage for expansion into a spectrum of industries. In addition to athletics, they now provide comprehensive group testing services for conventions and tradeshows, entertainment and production companies, the Miss Universe pageant, and more. While these efforts have remained instrumental to continuing live events during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the success came with complex challenges to navigate along the way.
Lab-based testing for large events comes with limitations
With accuracy of results a top priority, ProAm initially relied heavily on lab-based PCR testing, the gold standard for COVID-19 identification.
While effective, scaling lab-based PCR testing to serve large crowds across the country proved to be less than seamless. As testing volume increased, differences in lab performance introduced a range of problems. According to James, “The labs were the big factor that decided whether or not we had a successful or a problematic testing site around an event. If they didn’t perform properly, everything went out of whack.”
Result turnaround time was variable, and findings were sometimes inconclusive, both of which caused unexpected delays and chaos that threatened event success. Without results, everything came to a halt — production staff couldn’t work, and athletes couldn’t train.
Waiting on lab results also introduced financial implications. To ensure the return of results by event go time, many attendees had to arrive earlier than would typically be necessary to get tested and quarantine overnight while tests were processed. Coordinating these early arrivals and providing the necessary accommodations significantly increased event costs.
Since opening combat sports, the ProAm test team has expanded to support multiple events across many industries, including playing a pivotal role in the first live Miss Universe Pageant during the pandemic.
Rapid RT-PCR a welcome addition to the team
Lab-based PCR provided the initial key to opening venue doors, but when James learned a reliable rapid RT-PCR test for COVID-19 that didn’t require lab processing was available, ProAm’s job got much easier. James explains, “When the Accula test came into the picture, we saw it immediately as a game changer in that we didn’t have to primarily rely on the lab anymore. We were able to take control of that process ourselves and create the lab where we were.”
Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test is a rapid RT-PCR test with a low limit of detection (LoD)*, authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use in CLIA-waived environments. When ProAm started using these tests to supplement both lab-based PCR and antigen screening, they were able to increase testing efficiency and reduce turnaround times without compromising result reliability. In fact, the Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test provided results in ~30 minutes, comparable to the turnaround time for rapid antigen tests but with greater accuracy.
The organizations that ProAm supports have loved using the Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test as well. “The most important factor was the accuracy of the test. Number two was convenience. Having both of those made it a no brainer to incorporate Accula tests as the primary means of testing,” says James. Relying on a rapid PCR test proved particularly useful for athletes traveling internationally, with many countries requiring a negative PCR result for entry. “From our experience, we’ve tested hundreds of athletes around the world, none of them have had a problem getting back into the country.” The Accula System uses a small docking station that is easily plugged into the wall or a power strip, allowing for multiple docks to connect to just one outlet. This option has made it possible for ProAm to screen and process thousands of tests over the course of several days. And while training on how to operate the system and properly load samples is important in ensuring the platform operates effectively and efficiently, in ProAm’s experience, this process can easily be managed by people without prior clinical lab experience.
Because of the high volumes and tight timelines, a rapid RT-PCR option meets the unique needs of live event COVID-19 screening. “So many variables involved with other test modalities can be bypassed with the Accula test,” James reiterates. “I can't emphasize enough how much easier the process has become and how difficult it was.”
Given the high demand for COVID-19 testing, ProAm recently launched a parent company, OnSiteAble, that also provides drive-thru and employer testing. For more information on the growing range of services offered by ProAm, please visit their website . Many schools, pharmacies, urgent care clinics and event providers are turning to rapid PCR given its convenience and sensitivity. To learn more, visit our Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test page or contact us to request a quote.
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This test has not been FDA cleared or approved but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA for use by laboratories certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988, 42 U.S.C. §263a, that meet requirements to perform high, moderate, or waived complexity tests. The test is authorized for use at the Point of Care (POC), i.e., in patient care settings operating under a CLIA Certificate of Waiver, Certificate of Compliance, or Certificate of Accreditation. This test has been authorized only for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses or pathogens. The emergency use of this test is only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostics for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the declaration is terminated or authorization is revoked sooner.
* LoD testing was performed with inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus from BEI (NR-52350). The preliminary LoD was determined by testing 5 replicates with 2 fold dilutions. To confirm the LoD, dilutions were performed in pooled negative anterior nasal swab human clinical matrix to identify the concentration that produced at least 95% positive results. Confirmatory testing was performed using three lots of Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test cassettes. Twenty (20) replicates from each cassette lot were tested with inactivated virus diluted in clinical matrix. The LoD was confirmed to be 150 copies per mL.
For Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) Only. For prescription use only. For in vitro diagnostic use.