Wendy Dahl: Covid Clinic Chief Growth Officer Shares How On-Site Covid Testing at The Forum L.A. is Ensuring People’s Safety

With a career history in the Event Planning and Entertainment industries, Wendy Dahl was the perfect choice as Chief Growth Officer for Covid Clinic. Her role encompasses expanding the organization’s reach to patients in the community at large.

Dahl previously worked as an advertising analyst and media buyer for Western Dental where she worked with a real estate team to help expand that organization and coordinate new openings and public health events. She’s also a keynote speaker for events across the U.S. and around the world on topics related to sales, marketing, leadership, and customer experience. Through her unrelenting dedication she is able to shape one of the biggest problems of our times to fit a world that is shifting around us.

Covid Clinic is a nationwide network of COVID-19 testing sites operated by dedicated, caring individuals, and healthcare workers. The clinic is now celebrating three months as the official COVID testing partner of the Forum in Inglewood, California, which is helping people safely attend events in person once again. Covid Clinic has already administered over 2,400 tests for nearly 40 events at the Forum to date and continues to provide on-site testing. Dr. Matthew Abinante, the CEO of Covid Clinic, said, “We’re thrilled to team with the Forum to provide Covid testing services for this iconic venue as we return to in-person events and gathering with our friends and loved ones.”

Wendy agreed to speak about the goals of Covid Clinic and how it is helping communities as well as event-goers reach a higher level of COVID safety through testing …

What exactly does a Covid Clinic do? Let’s start there.

At our core, Covid Clinic tests for COVID. We have a variety of rapid tests, normally they are called rapid antigen tests, and you typically get results in as little as 20 minutes. We are one of the largest rapid testing companies in the country. We also do PCR tests, which is the gold standard in the medical community for accuracy. Results come back in a day or two depending on what time of day you tested. That test must go to a lab for processing. We process our rapid tests at the testing location, which is why the turnaround time is so quick. However, we must send PCR tests to a lab, which is why there is a little bit longer process for getting results.

A lot of people are using home tests, as a matter of fact, here in N.Y. they are just sending them in the mail. How does that differ from the rapid test?

That is also a rapid antigen test and how it differs is how it is administered. With self-swabbing, occasionally people make mistakes, and you could get a false reading. If you are doing it in the medical community, a professional is doing that for you, they know how, they’ve been trained, and they are going to get a more accurate reading. It is a good thing for people at home to have these antigen tests. If you get a sniffle, you can test yourself and get quick results. If someone does test positive, they can come in and doublecheck the result they got at home. All these tests are relatively new to the market and to the consumer. There is a learning curve. Each one of the home tests are a bit different in the way you process them.

You come from the entertainment, event planning field. How does that help you in your job or how did you even get involved in this job?

I was referred to Covid Clinic by the general contractor who was working with the doctor setting up testing sites. At the time they were working with another event company that had a warehouse full of tenting and equipment and they thought they could get an event planner to come in and help launch sites. The general contractor referred me to the doctor, and he interviewed me. He asked if I knew how to obtain event permits, which I did. Being an event planner, particularly one with my skill set where I specialize in design, I can take an idea or concept and figure out how to bring it to life, which includes acquiring equipment to support it, setting up, laying it out, conducting spatial measurements, creating site plans, securing permits, etc.

I can take an idea all the way to full execution, including the flow of traffic to the site to maximize the spaces we lease. When we started the lines were so long, we needed larger spaces, but now our processes are so streamlined that we can fit an entire site within 10 parking spaces. That skill set from event planning has helped. What they didn’t know was that I came from Western Dental and worked there in the 1990s. I was working with the launch team for all their new dental locations during a large expansion, so I understood that strategy. It’s the coolest project management job where you can find opportunities to create any type of environment using whatever you have.

During that time when the lines were so long and out the door and around the block, it was a two-hour wait to even register, how did Covid Clinic handle that?

During the latest surge, we saw an 800% increase in patient load or traffic across our sites in the U.S. Day one, when it first starts to hit, you pick up the activity and you expand the sites. We pre-negotiated what we call surge space so we could make the sites larger and accommodate longer car lines. What we saw even surpassed that. So, we had to convert some of our drive-thru sites to walk-up locations to shorten lines and alleviate traffic congestion.

Do you think that by having your clinics for example, this has helped people get back to normal, get back to seeing events, concerts, all those things?

Certainly, that was one of the primary driving forces of getting involved, so I could help the industry I came from that had become lifeless. At the beginning of the pandemic, even the first year, events were not happening. People in the industry believed they had no transferable skills. Ironically, my team was composed of event planners. I turned them all into project managers. I saw the adaptability of a planner’s skill set. Essentially, we traded beautiful ballrooms for parking lots and shipping containers. The glamour was lost but the mechanics were the same. A whole team of event planners were working on expanding this organization nationwide. When I started there were three locations, the fourth was launching just as I was hired. I’ve taken it from those three or four locations up to hundreds and those are just the sites where people in the community get tested. We also have hundreds more school sites.

Are the kids in LA still wearing masks in school?

This is the first week they haven’t.

COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, so how are you preparing, is there any inside information on the next surge?

If we follow the trend from years past, even though it’s only been a couple of years, you can see a little bit of an uptick around spring break, you can see it again around the 4th of July, then a slow build that starts around Halloween that takes you all the way through the holidays. Generally, between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the biggest surge we see with travel and people gathering. Then it starts to taper off around mid to late January. It’s been consistent like that.  When people gather, that’s when it spreads.

I heard on the news that China has the biggest surge that they’ve had since the beginning of it. How long is it going to take to travel here?

Usually anywhere between three to four weeks. We follow what happens overseas and within roughly four weeks it hits here. What is interesting is that everyone is out, and life is generally “normal” right now. I don’t see as much concern in the community. I have people hosting testing sites in cities and schools where people are asking, “Do we need to do this, are we in the clear?” One of our researchers says it’s harder to find COVID data with the war in Ukraine dominating the news right now. People are interested in what is happening in the world, but I think a lot of attention is going to Ukraine and less to COVID. It’s going to be interesting over the next few weeks to see how it impacts the United States. We have had an attitude shift, where people’s lives are going back to normal, we don’t have masks on, and there are no restrictions. For the most part you don’t hear the get vaccinated slogans like you once did.

Do you provide vaccines too?

Generally, in California. We have a vaccination program we’ve taken to cities that have asked. We have locations where we offer vaccinations — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. We provide your first round of shots and all the subsequent boosters. We are happy to help in that regard. We haven’t expanded outside of this area. It is more of a controlled release. It’s complicated to manage vaccinations. They are tracked, must be kept at certain temperatures, and managed in a certain way to prevent waste. We want to ensure high quality control because we want to be sure to do our part in helping our community.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you want to cover?

We are doing more involved surge planning. We are working at securing super sites, Southern California will have three, where they’ll be open 24/7 because our smaller standard sites were overwhelmed during the last surge. That will give people greater access to testing and vaccines.

Last year we expanded our sites. Now we are looking for bigger sites that can take larger volume and take some of the pressure off the smaller sites. Based on what I’ve seen in the past, there is an assumption that the testing company is fully in charge of the results window. What’s missing from the consumer awareness is that the test is taken from our testing site and sent to a lab, which can take anywhere from a day or two. The lab then must process and return the results. So, the turnaround time involves a second party, it is not the testing company causing the delay. The labs are also looking at how they can improve their result times. If there was one thing I could wave my magic wand about, it would be a little more patience and kindness during the next surge. We saw a lot of angry people, but everyone was working so hard. There were days when I was working 20 hours and getting four hours of sleep. Our sites were all working full capacity for as long as they could.

I know we are going to be better prepared for this next surge because we will deploy these super sites but also, everyone has a better understanding of wait times. We truly are doing our best.

 

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