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Courier giants help US operate pop-up virus test centers

FedEx delivers specimens to private laboratories

FedEx Express has dedicated some aircraft to fly test kits to labs. (Source: FedEx/Jim Allen, FreightWaves)

Express carriers FedEx Corp. and UPS are helping the U.S. government open drive-up coronavirus testing centers in dozens of communities and deliver the specimens to laboratories.

The companies have a long history of assisting humanitarian operations and have the ability to quickly flex their freight networks to meet urgent logistics needs.

FedEx [NYSE: FDX] said Monday it launched a special operation over the weekend ferrying COVID-19 test specimens from more than 50 remote locations in 12 states with a combination of dedicated aircraft and package trucks for pickup and delivery.

Walmart, Target, CVS Health and Walgreens 10 days ago told the White House they would set up coronavirus testing in their parking lots to help speed up testing for the respiratory illness that has claimed more than 590 lives in the U.S. already.

The sealed boxes were shipped overnight on 28 dedicated flights, according to FedEx. They included a multisensor device that collects and transmits data on each shipment via wireless communication to an online application for real-time tracking and monitoring. The patented SenseAware technology gives the current location, temperature, light exposure, relative humidity, barometric pressure and shock readings.

FedEx Express package drivers collected the test sample boxes, took them to nearby airports and then picked them up for delivery to 10 labs operated by Quest Diagnostics and other commercial labs in several markets.

FedEx said it will continue to support the testing effort seven days a week as more remote testing centers become available across the country.

Atlanta-based UPS [NYSE: UPS] said last week it assisted with the logistics planning for opening and operating the drive-through testing sites.

Automakers Pitch In

In another example of companies stepping up to help the public, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said it is installing machinery to make more than 1 million protective face masks per month and will donate them to first responders and healthcare workers across North America.

Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday it is working with 3M and GE Healthcare to speed up production of medical equipment for healthcare workers, including a redesigned 3M powered air-purifying respirators and a simplified version of GE’s ventilator for patients experiencing breathing difficulty. Ford, in cooperation with the United Auto Workers, will assemble more than 100,000 critically needed plastic face shields per week at a Ford manufacturing site for use by medical professionals, factory workers and store clerks. Ford will also use its in-house 3D printing capability to produce disposable respirators for heallthcare workers.

Automakers General Motors and Tesla previously said they would help make ventilators.

FedEx has also moved more than 1 million COVID-19 test kits to cities across the U.S. on behalf of government agencies, and an additional 250,000 N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment in partnership with humanitarian aid organizations to as many as 1,000 community health centers and free clinics. Additionally, FedEx said it has expedited delivery of test kits from Indianapolis-based Roche Diagnostics to U.S. labs.

Both FedEx and UPS are also using their all-cargo aircraft to deliver face masks, protective gear, ventilators and other equipment to the U.S. and other countries, as they did when the COVID-19 outbreak began in China. 

Delivery Precautions

They have adapted to the new business environment by modifying procedures drivers use for residential and business deliveries. To minimize contact with recipients, both companies have suspended signature requirements for most deliveries. UPS said its drivers validate and record the name of the recipient instead of obtaining a signature. In situations where a shipper requests an adult’s signature, UPS requires recipients to present identification with proof of age to the driver.

Their airlines also disinfect cockpits, jumpseat areas and aircraft lavatories to keep pilots healthy.

FedEx says it promotes social distancing on the job, including at security screening, on employee shuttles and in common areas. Team members are repeatedly reminded by managers, signs and digital monitors about hygiene and cleaning.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]