Teen Finds 'Better Way' to Test for COVID

John Whyte, MD, MPH; Taft Foley III

Disclosures

October 22, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

  • After experiencing the frustrations of long lines for COVID-19 testing throughout Houston, Texas, Taft Foley III, an 18-year-old high school senior and an EMT, decided to launch his own mobile COVID testing lab in a van.

  • Foley succeeded in raising $60,000; his father matched the funds. He is now the co-founder of Texas Mobile Medical Labs.

  • A portion of revenue from every test will go towards a free test to veterans, people who are unable to pay for their own tests, and to senior citizens in the community.

  • Appointments are scheduled by date, time, and location.

  • At 17 years of age, Taft became the youngest EMT in the state of Texas. He is also the first African American Eagle Scout in the 70-year history of his troop.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

John Whyte, MD, MPH: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. Have you tried to get a COVID test? Did you have to drive somewhere, take public transportation, and wait a while?

What about a mobile van and mobile testing to help get closer to you and make it quicker? That would be a good idea, wouldn't it? Well, my next guest has done just that. Did I mention he's 18 years old? I'm pleased to welcome Taft Foley III, a high school senior, an EMT, and founder of Texas Mobile Medical Labs. Taft, thanks for joining me.

Taft Foley III: Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Whyte: You're 18 years old, and you came up with this idea of an innovative mobile COVID-19 testing lab. Take us back and tell us how you thought of this and made it happen.

Foley: Toward the middle of the summer, I attended an EMT course. When I got back to Houston, Texas, I decided to take a COVID test because I have a little sister and I didn't want to give her the virus. I went to a local clinic nearby my house. But when I got there, I was met with a line that snaked around the entire building, and I had to wait 2 hours just to get inside. I took the test, but I still self-quarantined ─ even though it came back negative ─ just to stay safe. In that 2-week period, I decided to do some research of my own because I thought to myself, there must be a better way. That's when I found Quidel's 15-minute COVID tests, and I really got the idea to "go to my patients."

Whyte: You have this idea and say, "Hey, I can do better." I love that philosophy. But then, how did you make it happen? How you get the van? Did you have to include your parents? How did it all come to fruition?

Foley: I definitely got a lot of help from the community, especially my father. I asked him if he'd be willing to help, and he told me he'd match the money I raise to keep the business going. I was able to raise about $60,000. I don't think he was expecting me to raise that much money.

Whyte: I'm going to be careful to say that to my children. That's a good dad! Okay, so you were able to raise the funds. Take us from there.

Foley: I was able to raise the funds, and he matched the amount. I was able to buy the van and purchase the tests.

Whyte: What's been the response of the community?

Foley: There's been a great response from the community. They've been very happy to support me. A lot of people have come out to take tests. Many others have given me opportunities to take interviews, to advertise, and get the word out about the business. That's really what the business is designed to serve ─ the community.

A portion of revenue of every test will go toward a free test for the community. As in, we will be providing free tests to veterans, people who are unable to pay for their own tests, and senior citizens.

Whyte: How do you choose where to bring the van? Can people make appointments? How does it work?

Foley: Yes, sir. It's appointment-based. Our patients will call our phone number, or they'll sign up online. From there, they can schedule when they need to take a test and where we need to be. And, we'll be there.

Whyte: Now, you're a high school senior. So how do you manage going to school full time and running this innovative mobile testing?

Foley: It's definitely not easy. It comes down to a lot of time management. It's not just me. I have help from my family and people who helped me start the business. We try to spread the work out as evenly as we can. I'm still working about 20 hours a week. It just comes down to balancing my time and managing as best as I can.

Whyte: That is really exciting that you did this. I should also point out that you're the youngest EMT in the Texas area. Is that correct?

Foley: To my knowledge, yes, sir. I became an EMT at about 17 years of age. I don't know anyone who became an EMT at that age.

Whyte: Many students of your age are playing video games or are just hanging out with their friends. What inspired you to say, "You know what, I need to address this problem"?

Foley: I wasn't alive when 9/11 happened, but I've seen a lot of videos of it. One of the aspects of the videos that stood out to me the most is that as dust rose from the ground and people ran away, you can see the EMTs and the firefighters running toward the smoke and the danger. When I have kids and grandchildren, I want to be able to tell them that I ran toward the flames when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I want to be able to tell them that I was one of the people who ran toward the danger in order to make a change.

Whyte: Why did you decide to become an EMT?

Foley: At the beginning of the summer, I took basic life support (BLS) and advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) courses, because I just wanted to find ways to help people. I figured that becoming an EMT would be another way that I could help the community as best as I could.

Whyte: What else do you do with your free time, Taft? You're going to school, you're an EMT and running a business. I understand you're also into scouting. Tell us about that as well.

Foley: Scouting was a phenomenal experience. I'm currently an Eagle Scout. I am the first African American Eagle Scout in the 70-year history of my troop. I've learned a whole lot from scouting, and it's been a fantastic experience so far.

Whyte: Congratulations. Now, what surprised you by all of this? You had an idea and made it happen. Did anything surprise you?

Foley: Well, I was surprised with how much red tape I had to go through. I wasn't expecting it to be is as difficult as it was to get where I am.

Whyte: There's always red tape, Taft. That is for sure.

Foley: I learned that the hard way. Thankfully, I was able to get through it with some help and I'm where I am today.

Whyte: It's an exciting story. I have to tell you: I've interviewed over 170 people, and I was so excited to talk to you today and hear about what you've been doing. At a young age when you saw a need, you found the resources to do it and you made it happen. That is really inspirational, and I know all our viewers are thinking that right now. I'm sure they want to know what's next for Taft.

Foley: To be honest with you, I'm not entirely sure what's next. Right now, I'm focused on school, keeping the business afloat and getting tests out to people, and applying to colleges. Outside of that, I'm just going to focus on work right now.

Whyte: I don't want to pressure you, but do you want to go to medical school?

Foley: Absolutely. That's definitely one of the things I want to do.

Whyte: How can people help you with your mission?

Foley: We're having a little bit of trouble with search engine optimization, and ways people can help a whole bunch with that is that they can Google our company, Texas Mobile Medical Labs. That way, when they search for it, our specific website will be one of the first things that pops up.

Whyte: Texas Mobile Medical Labs (936-333-3333). I'm going to put it on the video screen. I want everyone to remember to search for it right after this video.

Taft, I want to congratulate you on what you've done, and your family as well. As you pointed out, your family has helped you a great deal as well your community. We need more people like Taft Foley III, who sees a problem and figures out a way to solve it.

Thanks so much for joining me today, and thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.

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