The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created new challenges for cross-border travel between Michigan and Ontario. To reduce virus spread, border crossing has been limited to essential workers and trade, resulting in crippling impacts on these interwoven economies.

Fortunately, innovators on both sides of the border are rising to this challenge. MedHealth steering committee member and CEO of Audacia Bioscience, Phillip Olla, believes there could be a way to safely open the border while prioritizing residents’ health and safety.

Audacia Bioscience specializes in immunoassays (tests for specific antibodies or antigens) and has used this expertise to develop COVID-19 antibody and antigen tests, as well as a pilot project that aims to create a smoother process for border crossing while reducing the risk of importing infections.

“We’re not going to eliminate COVID-19, so we have to change how we approach cross-border travel,” Olla said. “This was the impetus for developing the Cross-border COVID Testing Alliance to generate secure, verifiable certificates called ‘WEPass.’”

Through better testing and technology, WEPass has the potential to help rebound economic activity that the pandemic has hindered. WEPass will provide people crossing the border with a secure mechanism to share their COVID-19 status digitally with authorized border officials, who don’t have access to Internet at checkpoints. No personal information, beyond the date of an individual’s COVID-19 test and the results, can be seen.

To further advance WEPass, Audacia Bioscience sought support of talented student innovators on both sides of the border by making this pilot project a focus area at the BorderHacks 2020 Hackathon. This virtual cross-border event served as a platform to stimulate new ideas to advance the WEPass pilot. As part of this event, MedHealth participated as both a sponsor and reviewer. MedHealth program manager Stacey Frankovich and steering committee member Virginia Wilkinson represented the program on the judging panel.

“The hackathon provided an opportunity for bright minds to solve a timely challenge that cross-border travelers are facing,” said Frankovich. “MedHealth is proud to support this initiative to foster innovation that will better connect our cross-border economies.”

Components of solutions created by first and second place hackathon winners, GetCheck and COVID Wallet, have been used to enhance WEPass COVID-19 test scheduling and secure result certificate generation. In addition to these collaborations, Audacia Bioscience is partnering with Plymouth, Michigan–based company RapidBio on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and rapid antigen testing for participants to complete prior to crossing the border. The initiative successfully launched on March 1, 2021, and tests can be booked online at C19Tests.ca. Windsor-area members of the alliance are data management specialists Auxilium Group, block chain specialists OneLedger, and Sunshine IDA Pharmacies.

“It is critical that we have a way to safely cross the border,” said Olla. “We are thankful for our partnership with MedHealth that has helped make these connections to U.S. healthcare innovators possible.”