Business leaders buy 50,000 COVID-19 test kits for KC, urge others to act

The Kansas City area is getting an additional 50,000 COVID-19 test kits, thanks to a group of prominent local business leaders.

They say their efforts are just getting started and are appealing for other business leaders to step up in this and other communities at a time when needs are great and speed counts.

“This is a battle being fought out in minutes and hours,” NorthPoint Development CEO Nathaniel Hagedorn said. “If we can inspire business people to step up, it can make a big difference.”

A group including Hagedorn, U.S. Engineering CEO Tyler Nottberg, Tradebot CEO Dave Cummings, Russell Stover Chocolates CEO Andy Deister and MTAR CEO Taimoor Nana came together to see how they could help expedite Kansas City’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which is a disease caused by a strain of coronavirus.

“Everybody — individuals and businesses — are turning inward to protect ourselves,” Nottberg said. “And now is precisely the time when the community needs leadership to address gaps that won’t be addressed by governments and health care systems because they are so involved on the front line.”

Nottberg said the group reached out to health care systems not so much asking for permission to get involved, but to assess their needs.

NorthPoint has three or four employees with COVID-19 symptoms, Hagedorn said, but they can’t get tested because of a lack of test kits. News that Johnson County would scale back testing hit hard.

After the local executives spoke Thursday, he began researching how other countries ramped up testing. Hagedorn contacted the head of BGI Genomics, which handled much of the COVID-19 testing in China, and they connected Friday morning.

When he heard the company had 50,000 test kits sitting in a warehouse in San Jose, Calif., while getting final approval for use in the U.S., he said the group would buy them, along with two machines for doing the testing.

To make use of the kits, the group needed a lab partner. The University of Kansas Health System quickly stepped up with facilities and expertise. The states of Missouri and Kansas then said they would take care of additional materials and arranging for test sites.

KU Health System CEO Bob Page said the process started a little more than a week ago when Nottberg “did one of those really nice reach-outs.” He followed with a text message to Page telling him not to hesitate to ask for help. The hospital system has followed by getting in touch with Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce CEO Joe Reardon.

KU Health is grateful for offers of help, but Page said he wants to explain that there can be a number of issues that need to be addressed — such as whether equipment meets medical standards or whether the system has staff to handle equipment.

“I love Kansas City because we have some of the most generous people in the world living here,” he said. “Sometimes they may not know all of the details that have to be taken care of.”

Hagedorn said the cost of the kits and machine figured out to around $1.2 million. He gave a call to Cummings, an early investor in NorthPoint projects, and asked whether he could contribute.

“And then he called back in 20 minutes and said ‘I’m in for $1 million,'” Hagedorn said.

The first of the materials arrived Sunday, he said, and everything needed for testing should be ready within a week.

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