A private equity rm with diverse real estate investments is offering free coronavirus testing for its 1,500 U.S. employees, in what could be a blueprint for how companies can ramp up private testing operations as some parts of the economy begin to reopen.
ZT Corporate, based in Houston, is hoping its program will inspire more private medium and large businesses to shoulder the nancial burden with the government for coronavirus testing, which is considered key for safely reopening the economy.
Amazon is preparing to build its own coronavirus testing lab and Ferrari is rolling out a testing program at its manufacturing sites. About 65% of commercial real estate executives surveyed by CoreNet Global believe it will be safe for workers to return to work once stay-at- home mandates expire, but questions abound about how companies will maintain a safe environment with a vaccine not available.
ZT Corporate began offering the free tests to employees April 22 with the goal of testing all of its employees in ve states by April 30. The test will be offered for ZT Corporate’s employees in Houston; Pearland, Texas, where it owns its building; New York City; Arizona; Atlanta; and Fort Walton Beach, Florida. ZT Corporate’s broad portfolio includes investments in healthcare, auto dealerships, retail, franchised restaurants and multifamily and commercial real estate.
Texas, Georgia and Florida, where many of ZT Corporate employees are located, are among the states where governors have started to ease some social-distancing measures as statewide stay-at-home orders expire April 30. However, many states and local governments have been hampered by a lack of coronavirus testing. For example, only 225,078 tests have been completed in Texas as of April 23, according to state data, which is less than 1% of the state’s 29 million residents. Of the tests completed in Texas, 95.5% were done at private labs, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Taseer Badar, CEO of ZT Corporate, said he was inspired to offer the free testing for employees as a way to help healthy employees return to work with more condence. Badar is advocating medium and large businesses pay for private testing as a way to help shoulder the costs and to make testing more widely available.
“The whole idea behind this was increased [testing] capacity. Let’s get this thing expedited. In partnership with the government, the private sector can help lead testing so people can be more condent in going back to the workplace,” Badar said in an interview.
“Let small businesses go to county and city for free testing so that way you’ll shorten the line,” Badar said. Coronavirus testing sites across the country have been plagued with long lines and limited testing capacity, including in Houston where ZT Corporate has its headquarters.
Badar argues that many companies with human resources departments could coordinate employee testing, similar to how human resources departments coordinate u shots at many companies. “Someone with an HR department of size can handle this. Our team is mobilizing this thing in one week,” he said.
Employees can volunteer to receive a free diagnostic swab test to determine if they have coronavirus. ZT Corporate has contracted with a third party, United Memorial Medical Center, to administer the Food and Drug Administration swab tests. Healthcare providers are setting up small testing sites, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, at ZT Corporate’s ofces and properties where employees can get tested over the next week.
Some employees’ healthcare insurance plans through Cigna may cover the cost of the tests, said Badar. If the healthcare plan an employee selected does not cover the test, Badar said ZT Corporate will cover the cost out of pocket. He declined to say how much each individual test costs, but he said paying for all the tests without insurance could cost his company six gures. Even if insurance does cover the cost of several tests, Badar is expecting his premiums to rise next year as a result of his COVID-19 testing program.
Employees who test positive for coronavirus will work with the CDC, state and local public health ofcials to quarantine and contact trace when necessary, in compliance with guidelines from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, he said.
Many of ZT Corporate’s employees are considered essential in some states and are still working, including employees in the nancial services, automotive and healthcare industries. Employees who test negative can work with more condence, Badar said, and corporate employees working from home can return to work safely where local stay-at-home guidelines permit.
“It’s a rst shot at the bow with the virus,” Badar said. “If you know the data, then you know how to remove people out of mainstream population.”
Badar said he is still working with his HR department on how to continue to help employees monitor their health, which could include asking employees and customers to check their temperatures when they enter a building.
Badar said it’s possible he will have to do repeat testing and may even do antibody testing in the future, although that is not yet set in stone. “We’ll return probably with a lot more caution. We have hand sanitizer everywhere, we have barrels of soap, we have a very large ofce where we can have social distancing policies. I see that being the natural course of the new normal,” Badar said.
Established in 1997, ZT Corporate has an active portfolio in healthcare services operating under afliates Altus Healthcare and Neighbors. Its automotive dealerships are under the ZT Motors umbrella and include dealerships with Mercedez, Kia, Mazda, Toyota, BMW and Chevrolet brands. The rm’s real estate fund focuses on healthcare, multifamily and ofce assets, and recently launched a partnership with Houston-based multifamily owner and developer Nitya Capital.
Broad guidelines outlined by the Trump administration on reopening the economy suggest local governments roll out reopening in phases based on a downward trajectory of cases for 14 days, availability of testing and contact tracing, among other guidelines. States such as Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas have stay-at-home orders set to expire April 30.
Georgia is already allowing certain businesses to reopen, and Texas is permitting some retail- to-go operations to open April 24.