Perkins and Will Demonstrates How Out-of-use School Buses Can Be Retrofitted into Mobile Testing Labs

In response to the urgent need for more widespread and rapid COVID-19 testing, Perkins and Will’s New York studio, along with its Denmark studio Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and in partnership with multi-disciplinary design group Arup, has designed a plan to retrofit out-of-use school buses into mobile testing labs. The plan is scalable, quick, inexpensive and easily replicated for worldwide adoption.

The plan to retrofit out-of-use school buses into mobile testing labs can be replicated for worldwide adoption.
The plan to retrofit out-of-use school buses into mobile testing labs can be replicated for worldwide adoption.

“While no one is immune to the COVID-19 virus, testing and treatment is not a level playing field. It is the underserved communities, including lower-income and homeless populations, that need our urgent help at this time,” says Mariana Giraldo, architect and strategic planning specialist in Perkins and Will’s New York studio. “We wanted to harness the expertise of our interdisciplinary team to help those in need during the crisis. We believe the mobile testing lab is a scalable and accessible solution to close the gap on testing in our home, New York City, and across the world.”

Perkins and Will based the layout of the mobile testing lab concept around the recently approved Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test, enabling vulnerable populations and isolated groups to be tested and receive their results within minutes. Ideally, individuals would be referred to the mobile testing lab through doctors and appointments would be made through a mobile app, so crowds could be controlled and social-distancing rules could be met. Of course, given the testing solution’s emphasis on equitability, smartphone access or a referral from a doctor is not a prerequisite.

Upon arrival, individuals are greeted by technicians behind a plexiglass shield underneath a canopy. Following a brief check-in process, a technician would take a sample using a swab from the individual’s nose and/or throat. Samples are labeled or barcoded and brought into a lab environment on the bus via a pass-through box.

The labs would host two technicians who would run the samples collected through the ID NOW rapid testing instrument. Once results are received, they would be recorded and uploaded to the federal government’s official database. Tested samples and the expended test materials would then be placed in biohazard waste bags and discarded safely. For tested individuals with mobile app access, results would be sent through a phone notification. For those without, results could be relayed verbally.

Every element of the mobile testing lab is designed to be sourced off-the-shelf from vendors, ensuring easy replicability across communities.

Perkins and Will is actively looking for additional project partners while also sharing the concept freely. In doing so, the firm hopes to maximize collective efforts to close the gap for COVID-19 testing. In the future, these mobile testing labs could also offer antibody testing or administer vaccines—once discovered and approved—to society’s most vulnerable populations.

ILLUSTRATIONS: COURTESY OF PERKINS AND WILL

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