young innovator

Houston student creates innovative mobile medical lab for rapid COVID-19 testing

Taft Foley III, an 18-year-old high school senior, co-founded Texas Mobile Medical Labs. Photo courtesy of Texas Mobile

An 18-year old high school senior from the Houston area mobilized his medical knowledge as one of the youngest EMTs in Texas and co-founded a mobile lab which can provide COVID-19 results in 15 minutes.

Texas Mobile Medical Labs was created to counteract testing delays that bogged down how quickly patients received results. The mobile lab currently operates in a van and a tent outside a community center in the Post Oak area for patients who prefer to come to them. For those that can't, the mobile lab can travel to any patient or business location for employee testing in the Houston area after they set up an appointment.

"This summer I become an EMT, training at the Texas EMS Academy in Corpus Christi," says Taft Foley III, co-founder of Texas Mobile Medical Labs. "When I got back to Houston I was asked to take a COVID-19 test, but I was met with a line that wrapped around the entire building and took two hours just to get inside."

According to Foley, that spurred him into finding a better way to get results to people quickly.

"I did my research and found a better alternative to increase testing and reduce waiting times," says Taft. "The antigen test works in 15 minutes, which makes them amenable to point-of-care use. That's when I really got the idea of going out to our patients for the test so that they don't have to leave home."

The tests are performed with a nasal swab, which then detects a viral protein in an actively infected person, giving accurate and fast results.

Antigens are molecules capable of stimulating an immune response. The SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 has several known antigens including its nucleocapsid phosphoprotein and spike glycoprotein, which are the visible protrusions on its surface.

Antigen tests reveal if a person is currently infected with a pathogen such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Once the infection is gone, the antigen disappears.

Although antigen tests typically have lower sensitivity than a traditional PCR test, that detects the virus through its genetic material, they provide tests rapidly and are relatively cheaper to produce.

"Getting this test to as many people as possible as fast as possible is essential," says Taft. "People need to know whether or not they need to stay home and if they're at risk of spreading the virus to others."

The results are sent to patients via text message or email, giving individuals peace of mind quickly if they are not infected and allowing those with COVID-19 to quarantine themselves and those they have exposed.

The test cost ranges from $100 to $150 for individuals, according to their website, depending on if testers would like to go to their tent location or take advantage of their mobile lab. While they currently do not accept insurance, most insurance companies will reimburse some or all of the cost of the test.

You can reach the Texas Mobile Medical lab at (936) 333-3333 if you have COVID-19 symptoms and would like to schedule an appointment for testing.

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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