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From drive-thru test sites to labs: How FedEx team members mobilized to ship thousands of COVID-19 test samples in less than 24 hours

FedEx and IMC Worldwide team up to deliver mobile hospital modules to Los Angeles.

In mid-March, as coronavirus testing began across much of the country, a nimble network of FedEx team members sprung into action to answer a call from the White House Task Force to transport COVID-19 test samples from test sites to labs for analysis.   

In less than 24 hours, FedEx designed pick-up and delivery operations to move more than 20,000 COVID-19 test samples from 50 test sites in a dozen states to labs in ten states for analysis. It all occurred over a weekend when people are typically not working, and included 28 flights, 40 trucks, and countless team members.  

The initial operation was successful, and FedEx is now scaling up as Task Force testing centers expand throughout the country. Working with different government agencies from the onset, FedEx is now well versed in compliance with the regulations and rules for transportation of COVID-19 test samples.  

It all began with a text to Sam Smith, FedEx Government and Regulatory Affairs, from a former colleague who now works in the Administration. After further discussions between Gina Adams, Corporate Vice President of Government & Regulatory Affairs, and the Administration, an all-hands-on-deck operation was activated by FedEx Express team members in a matter of days to execute the transport of the first test samples from drive-thru test centers to labs for analysis.  

“They asked if FedEx would be willing to step in,” Smith recalls. “And of course, our entire team was willing to do whatever possible.” 

A team co-lead by Joe Stephens, FedEx Express Senior Vice President of Global Engineering & Business Transformation, and Frank LeRose, FedEx Express Senior Vice President of Global Support Services, set to work designing a plan to ship the test samples. 

Because FedEx already works with some of the largest private testing labs in the country, the company stood ready to move these critical shipments on short notice with Priority Alert monitoring, temperature-controlled shipments, and advanced SenseAware tracking technology. 

The unique importance of the task at hand did not escape the team. “This is a true-life situation for a lot of people, where the purpose of this mission was a goal well above business,” said Bobby Dunavant, Managing Director of FedEx Express Global Operations Control. “We knew, if this comes out well, it’s possible we can help stop the spread of this virus.”  

Team members went above and beyond the call of duty: running routes, teaching public health officials how to package appropriately, advising the Task Force on network capabilities and safety protocols. And when the time came to activate, the team was ready.  

“Under a normal timeframe, we have a couple of weeks to plan something of this magnitude, but for this it was only a matter of hours,” said Mike King, FedEx Express Managing Director of Operations Planning and Engineering, who was one of five FedEx Support teams who helped manage the project. “It was complex, things were constantly changing, but it was folks’ can-do attitude and skill sets that made it happen… everybody knew what was at stake.”

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FedEx is positioned to flex its network to accommodate the critical transportation of test samples, and is also working closely with the labs to adjust pick-up and delivery times so as to not overwhelm them with samples.  

“The FedEx team has been outstanding in responding to these complex requests,” Smith said. “No other company could do what we are doing to support these efforts and we will continue to work hard on whatever unique challenges lay ahead.” 

And FedEx team members are making it happen.  

“What differentiates us is our people and I am incredibly proud of our team at FedEx Express for executing such a critical operation,” Stephens said. “Everyone is committed to collaborating, no matter what it takes. Our team members are eager to play their part to help those in need. This certainly would not have happened without Doug Jones, Marcus Martinez, Christopher Coburn, Mike King, Karl Lindsley, Bobby Dunavant and Brad Wilson.”