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School of Medicine Columbia

Alumnus helps establish COVID-19 testing sites

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed health care workers from all disciplines to the forefront in the fight to stem the spread of the disease, and University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia alumni are taking an active role.

John Propst, who earned his doctorate in biomedical sciences with a concentration in biomedical engineering from the School of Medicine in 2008, along with an M.B.A. from the Darla Moore School of Business in 2010, is a program lead in the medical devices division of Verily Life Sciences, formerly known as Google Life Sciences.

“We work with pharmaceutical, medical and insurance companies to add connectivity to medical devices such as implantables and neuromodulation devices,” he says.

But in this challenging time of trying to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19, Propst has taken on a much different role. Verily recently launched a pilot program to screen and test for COVID-19 in San Francisco. Propst is serving as the site lead and incident command for the company’s first and largest drive-through testing site.

Participants qualify for a test by taking an on-line screening survey through their Google account. Those who meet screening criteria are directed to testing sites in areas around the San Francisco Bay area to complete a nasal swab test and receive their results within a few days.

“We are prioritizing first responders, health care workers, and those who may have come in contact with someone who has tested positive.” Propst says. “It’s my responsibility to ensure operations are running smoothly and to serve as a liaison to our local and state government agencies.”

With four sites currently under operation, Verily plans to expand the number of testing sites to 50 within California and to replicate it across the nation

Propst admits that he was a bit nervous at first knowing he would be on site with high-risk participants, but he is impressed with how the program was set up.

“It is a safe, effective and efficient operation,” he says. “To see these testing sites set up within 36 hours of getting the green light and to work in collaboration with county and state government is quite impressive.”

The communication and leadership skills that Propst learned while earning his doctorate and master’s degrees from UofSC have served him well in this role.

“Defending my dissertation and learning skills to run a business have helped me tremendously in this role,” he adds. “The university provided me with solid foundational skills.”

The opportunity to help in a time of crisis for so many people led him to volunteer for the role.

“People are scared right now,” he admits. “They come to us, sometimes panicked, perhaps having been denied testing elsewhere, or unable to see their personal physician. To be able to help in their time of need is a rewarding feeling,”

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