Using Testing Technology to Help Fight Covid-19 with David Elkington

Overview: This week our guest is David Elkington who is currently working with the testutah initiative. He shares how this program started and the behind the scenes testing program on how each test is given and analyzed.

Guest: David ElkingtonDavid Elkington is the CEO and Founder of Dave has a rich background in technology, venture capital and corporate development. As CEO and Chairman, he has led to consecutive 50-100% year-over-year growth rates, starting with the company’s inception in 2004. He is currently working with silicon slopes on the initiative, working to create ubiquitous availability of testing for Utah in an effort to normalize life after Covid-19.

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Billy: Alright everybody, welcome to the show today! Today my guest is Dave Elkington one of the co-founders of silicon slopes. How are you doing Dave?

Dave: All things considered I am fantastic. We’re all quarantined in our home. We’re surviving that I guess. 

Billy: So today we’re going to talk about what you’re doing with Test Utah. To help get people tested and get people back to work from this Covid-19. Before we hop into that would you mind just telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Dave’s Background

Dave: Yeah, that will be great. I’m from here, Utah. Which is the same place that you guys are located. I’m also an investor in Chatfunnels so I love being on the call with you and love supporting you. I founded Inside Sales and we disrupted the sales industry and the typical sales technology space by using workflow and data to optimize that. And then about a year ago I hired a guy to run the company for me, Inside sales, which was just rebranded to Xant. 

And I’m also a co founder of an association called Silicon Slopes based in Utah. It’s basically a contortion of all of the tech companies so the founders are  myself, a guy named Josh James who is the founder of Domo and also the founder of Ominture, a guy names Ryan Smith who is the founder of Qualtrics and a guy named Aaron Skonnard  who is the founder of PluralSight.

So the four of us got together, it was really Josh James’ vision but a lot of us got excited and got involved and now there’s probably 300 CEOs representing the entire tech companies in Utah and really has grown  to represent a lot of the business community in Utah. So I’m a co-founder of that and right now I’m helping head out an initiative called Test Utah. Which is an Utah public private partnership. To try and address the needs of the Covid Crisis.

Billy: Awesome. So that’s what I really wanted to dive into is Test Utah and how you guys brought this together and how you are utilizing to screen people and get them testing in what is really an efficient way. I went through the process myself last week. It was really smooth but I know there was a lot of work going in behind the scenes to make that happen. 

History of Test Utah

Dave: Let me tell you what it is. Then let me tell you the history. Man there is so much that is going on in this thing. So what it is, it’s a public private partnership to address the needs of the state of Utah to assess people, testing them, help with tracing and the treatment for everyone. There’s 3.1 million people in Utah. We’ve got the largest health assessment in the history of Utah going on right now. Over 60 thousand respondents to this health assessment.

And we have a totally innovative approach to testing. And then there’s a very unique treatment strategy associated with this also. We’ve partnered with Governor Herber, Lieutenant governor Cox,  the Senate leaders, the house leaders are all involved. We’ve partnered with the state health lab Common, the State Health Department, the University of Utah. Credit to everyone to make this thing happen but that’s what it is.

 I’ll walk through more of what we’re doing but the history of the way this came about. Silicon slopes whenever there’s an opportunity to get involved we have a group called silicon slopes serves. So about a year-and-a-half and a half ago we realized there was a need for K through 12 Computer Science Education so that was a cause we really got after.

We raised about 4 to 5 million dollars. We partnered with the state again in that case. And they were able to advance at 10 some odd re-occurring fund for educating and supporting every school in Utah with computer science for all of the kids. So this was training the teachers, training the students. So about a month ago and this came up we saw the state just going after it. They had daily briefings and this is very early on. 

One of the CEOs said, look we need to get on a call and said we need to do something. This is not just the responsibility of the state. we’ve got to jump in. And so the first thing we did is, we said. And Mark Nooman he was kind of the visionary and said let’s do something to help out with the healthcare side. So he got volunteers and collected PPE which is protective gear for healthcare workers. And he’s like, no one can get this stuff let’s go to clothes of dental offices, and dermatology offices and plastic surgeons and sure enough we found thousands of masks and gloves and all that stuff.

Then we said well there’s space let’s go get these mobile testing stations up. And I said man this is awesome. I love being involved. This is really cool. So three or four days after they said this stuff and I live in a neighborhood with an older population. I thought I’m going to make sure everyone in our neighborhood knows that this resource is available.

test Utah is a massive testing initiative

So I called Mark and said where is this testing station at? And he said, oh it’s still an idea we haven’t done anything with it. I I said okay that makes sense but it can’t be that hard. You set up some tents, buy some kits, whatever. I’ll help with this. Well I would probably 18-hour days for the last 3 weeks trying naively thinking that this isn’t too hard a thing. Really this is a massive thing and there are 300 to  400 people involved in this initiative. Right now we’re doing about a thousand tests a day.

We have three locations up in Provo Utah, one in Orem Utah one in Ogden in Utah. We have a tent going up in Heber Utah we have one going up in Vernal Utah and one in Washington County so Saint George Utah. Over the next couple weeks or more. 

Early on we talked to a consultant who helped the government in China and what he told us was that everyone was back to work. We asked him how is this possible, we’re hiding in our basement.

And not only 3 weeks ago they were doing the same thing, so what’s changed? What he said was everybody wears masks, everywhere wears gloves, everybody does distancing but everybody tests. So their program is, whenever you go to work they take your temperature and then if you have any symptoms at all, or I have traveled or have had exposure to anybody. You go down and get tested. And then you wait a 24 hour or less turn around. So you wait for 24 hours in your cave and then if you’re clear you go back to work.

testing ability

They have the whole country back to work on this program. So they isolate and so they have the whole country back to work. If you are sick that they have a whole program where you go to a hotel and you’re there for 2 weeks and they treat you. They kind of got this figured out. We talked to them and they got the drill when we had the SARS epidemic. It took them a month or two to adapt. So what we’re doing is we want to create ubiquitous availability for testing here in Utah. If anyone has symptoms they can get tested. There is a 24 hour to turn around period. That’s what I’m doing right now.

Billy:  Awesome. So I’m going to share my screen cuz I’ve got the website pulled up. And I just want to show people who are watching the video how this process works. So if you could just talk us through it for everyone who is just listening. It’s really smooth and it’s really slick.

I’ve been around my dad; he had been in an area with someone who was affected. And I was around him so I filled it out and they said you should come and get tested. I went through it and it was very smooth, I pulled up I had a time slot, I pulled up in the car into the tent. I never even had to get out of my car then I got an email about twenty-four hours later and it said you’re good, no Corona.

Test Utah Use Case

Dave:  So here’s what’s amazing. This process is not a healthcare problem it’s not a medicine problem it’s a workflow problem. And the whole country has this. And the problem is how we get people through in a very efficient way. How we communicate with people in an efficient way. The problem is Health Care does not do this well. It’s super inefficient. Rather than bringing Healthcare people we brought workflow and data scientists and data workflow people. So before I get into too much of this let me explain the vision.

The problem we wanted to solve. And we saw this has been done really badly and other cities. They set up a station and people are jammed in or alternatively they have questions like do I have to get my insurance covered. So I’m this case Utah is super innovative. Utah is covering the cost so it does not go through Insurance. Utah is funding this initiative. Being as conservative as Utah is this is really really amazing.

Okay I’ll walk you through the use case. The case is I’m feeling kind of crummy or had exposure to somebody. I go through test on there are basic FAQs but there’s a test utah challenge. There is a red button and it walks you through the assessment. We don’t necessarily need to go through this. But it’s been put together by the health department, the University’s.

It has been put together by a costortion of anybody who understands, epidemiologist, everyone who understands what’s needed to understand aspects of her health in order to determine if they need a test and then take the information and extrapolate our overall population.

Step 1 go to the site. Step two takes the assessment once you’ve completed the assessment, if you in fact have the symptoms that say you need to be tested it prompts you to a scheduling app. So you pick a location and a Time. Once you do that you get an email and a text with a QR code. Let’s say your time is at 4:43 or 4:45, you drive down to the tent. There’s a traffic control police officer at the beginning of the tent.

You show your QR codes to that person and they scan it for you to go into the tent. There’s four stations so it’s a  50 by 40 foot tent with four stations. There’s actually a nurse with a barcode scanner here she scans your phone, scans a test kit, pulls out the swab, performs the swab, puts it back in and you’re off. It’s 3 minutes if that. And then within 24 hours you get the response back. 

The Process of Testing

Now let me tell you what was going on behind the scenes. Now let me tell you this is crazy innovative stuff. We use the workflow tool called qualtrics that’s surveying the assessments. So they’re the ones that are helping us perform the assessment. Which integrates to a scheduling app. So once you get through the qualtrics. It takes you to the scheduling app. Qualtrics is generating the QR code that then sends the email out.

We’ve also got a group that are packing and barcoding all of these test kits. The test kits are comprised of three things. A swab with a vial that you can store. You have what they call a reagent which is an extraction kit and you have the actual text kit. So they basically have three elements to any Covid test. We have a group that pretty much prints out stickers for those three, put them in a bag and on the bag also. 

Silicon slopes testing

Let’s follow the life cycle of a sample. The swab is put into the vile and then it was put into a bucket or bin. Then it is taken to the lab. Two to three times a day it’s taken to the lab. We’ve partnered with Timpanogos lab so they’re running it. And I’ll walk you through this amazing process. Silicon slopes and Test Utah has the highest true put infectious disease lab on the planet. We are currently have a higher capacity than any other lab. And that sounds weird but I’ll explain why.

It’s pretty amazing. That sample gets the lab, someone picks up another Barcode Scanner and scans everything in the bucket and then puts them in bins. So when they scan it updates into the system that it’s now in the lab It gets put into a bin of 46. This is an important number because we have a machine that is a big robotic machine that basically can hold trays of 46. And it holds bins of 46 and each bin. Two of those pins go on a tray and you have eight pins per run. So you have 900 samples per run. So we can test 900 people at a time. 

The process basically goes once you put it in in this bin there’s a three-hour process We’re washes and what it really does. What we’re trying to do is get to the RNA. So if you’re thinking about elementary or high school Biol. You have a cell, there’s a wall and mitochondria. You’re basically breaking the whole thing down, by washing and pulling the RNA out and at the very end we have 900 bins or 900 little sections where we have the RNA. Well then what we’ve done is that we take that and put it into a zero air container. That’s sucking it out and then you have a second tray.

We reprogrammed a 3D printer arm. So think about a 3D printer that has an arm that can go around. And it takes the RNA out of this little  vial and puts it into another tray that we can do a testing with. So we went and bought low and not terribly expensive 3D printers. We put this tray into a PCR machine that actually runs the test. So that middle section with that big robotic thing, that’s just extracting the RNA. Then we run the tests on that RNA that runs for about an hour plus or minus and then we get a spreadsheet out of that that we rewrote the software for. We redo the software and upload it back into the qualtrics system and that kicks off the email back to you.

And also kicks off an email to the state lab or the state database so the state has all the data and it sends that data to the National Database. Because Mike has created a National Database. So what you can see is that time, you have 3 hours and this massive extraction machine, an hour in the testing machine. And probably an hour in prepping movement and the little robotic arm that’s in the middle of that. So you’re talking 5-ish hours from once it enters this process till the person knows.

So the reason that this is the most advanced testing process and the way we figured this out was with a prior company called Code Diagnostic. Their company here and Utah and their the ones that came up for the test kit. The technology that allows us to test. Will they traditionally provide testing tools for third world countries for infectious disease and things like that.

Billy: sorry about that guys but we lost David wanted to make sure the weekends out though. So if you’re in Utah and you think you are showing symptoms of covid-19 go to They are providing free testing for everyone that exhibits enough cyst symptoms to warn a test. I know Dave is working on getting these stations set up in other States as well if you want to reach out to Dave and learn how you can help please reach out to him over LinkedIn it’s David Elkington founder of inside sales of the best way to contact him. Until next time. Everyone stay safe.