PASS Holds Town Hall Meeting About Testing After ‘Lab Duopoly’ Era

LOS ANGELES — PASS, the Performer Availability Screening Service, held a town hall meeting this morning to discuss the future of performer testing after what Executive Director Ian O’Brien described as the “duopoly” era of TTS (Talent Testing Service) and CET (Cutting Edge Test) dominance.

The Zoom meeting was moderated by performer and activist Siouxsie Q, and featured an initial half-hour presentation by O’Brien — fleshing out some of the new ideas he had discussed exclusively with XBIZ earlier this week — followed by a Q&A that included Free Speech Coalition CEO Michelle LeBlanc.

O’Brien described the “wild year and a half” since the onset of COVID precipitated the withdrawal first of leading lab TTS in June 2020 and then, earlier this week, the surprising unilateral withdrawal of CET.

O’Brien then gave more details about “how we got to the situation,” before unveiling much of the planning for a new PASS-run lab, which would include drawing centers first in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and later in Florida and through deals with other drawing centers nationwide.

The PASS executive director said the timeframe to get a “very scrappy” initial version of the lab up and running will be between three and six months, which could be shortened and improved with increasing fundraising by the community.

The panelists encouraged the performer community to donate to the project by visiting the PASS website and clicking on the donate button in the top right corner.

The Future of PASS 

O’Brien’s presentation outlined a number of issues concerning the present and future direction of the performer testing system:

Current Testing Situation

“The most important point to reiterate right now is that both CET and TTS are currently using the PASS standard testing panel. Getting tested through both of them is the same as it was prior to their withdrawal from the PASS system. The same test batteries are being conducted. The results [reported] are what they were before this issue occurred.”

Various Reasons Given by CET for Sudden Withdrawal

“We learned about this on Monday through a tweet along with the rest of the industry. We never had a reason communicated that something was going to occur. Dr. Miao of CET had reported to XBIZ that their reason for pulling out from PASS had to do with a conflict with our change in [COVID] testing for fully vaccinated individuals. […] We believe that the policy we set is the safest for the industry. […] We got reports from performers going to CET that they’ve been telling folks that their reasoning [was] due to a lack of security and privacy concerns in the PASS database. This is the first I’m hearing about that.”

O’Brien said that PASS was created “specifically for minimizing the potential for data security issues. PASS is built in a way with that binary ‘yes/no’ system that even if someone were to get in and receive the information, no medical [or] health information is stored anywhere near the site.”

Labs Withdrawals May Lead to Production Hold Inefficiencies

According to O’Brien, PASS now has “limited control of production holds. I want to reassure to everybody that I have a direct commitment from TTS, and an insinuation from CET, that they will continue to be cooperative in the event that a production hold is necessary.”

However, O’Brien did outline possible complications. “My job in the production hold process is to shorten the length of it as much as possible. In the event that we have no information except that an infection has occurred and could potentially be transmitted, a production hold would last 14 days, minimum. […] When a production hold occurs, my job is to collect as much information as possible, identify folks who may or may not have been exposed to this infection, get them retested as fast as possible based on when that exposure may have occurred, clear them on the PASS database, and shut down the production hold. […] Not having direct input into that system means that there’s a delay in that process. It means that every step of contacting potential performers is reliant on TTS and CET’s agreement to do so, their staffing resources, and also explicit consent to share test results. […] When every [lab] was reporting to the PASS system, when we were able to get somebody retested, the clearance would be on the PASS system and I could see someone was clear and we were good to go. Now I have to have people disclose specific infections or test data if we were to shorten the timeframe. There is some increased risk in terms of safety. But there is a very large risk in the length of the production hold and how folks would be required to not be producing.”

Lack of Leverage Against Unilateral Decisions by the Lab Duopoly

O’Brien described PASS as “the database and the regulatory body here” and one of its roles as “to negotiate with the clinics around what specific testing needs might be. When you go get tested at a CET or TTS clinic, they control the entire operation, they control the price point, all the money that is collected from that goes to them. FSC and PASS have never made any money off of that process. Due to that [fact], we were no longer a necessary [component of] their ability to provide their services to the industry.”

Issues With Bringing in More Labs Into PASS

“Part of our strategy for a while was trying to bring in new clinics to this mix to be able to provide folks with more options, spread out control of the process and let the market take care of it. The challenge is that lab testing is a volume game.”

Problems arose, O’Brien said, due to the unique needs of the adult industry community, which “has sex in an occupation setting. [We want] risk measure in a matter of days and we want to reduce that window as much as possible. This is different than most public health testing. A frequent question that I get is why we don’t tie into free health clinics; there’s no specific reason we would not. If free health clinics were to be able to offer [our] testing panel, immediately we would accept those test results into PASS. The kind of unique nature of PCR testing means that it’s a more expensive test than antibody/antigen testing and public health measures that free clinics are set up around are using a different model for a different population. They are testing for folks who are typically screened, at most, every six months.”

Testing Is a Game of Volume

“The costs associated with it are fairly fixed, meaning that running one test panel is almost as expensive as running a thousand. The real expenses are the machine and people associated with the process. The margins of testing 1,000 people versus 500 people are fairly dramatic. When we’ve been able to talk to new labs, even labs who were interested and were able to do this, without a volume commitment they can’t be pricing, can’t guarantee turnaround time, which presents a structural problem.”

The Industry Needs to Be More Proactive About Health Solutions

“As an industry, we have been forced to be so reactive,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s stifled our ability to focus and develop and fend for ourselves. The inception of PASS as an idea is exemplary of that problem: outside forces exploited a particular vulnerability in our own testing system and PASS was created specifically to address those vulnerabilities first and foremost, so that we can get the basic level of care that we need. I think that what this moment proves is that we have an opportunity here to imagine something different than what we’ve been doing.”

Catering to a Diverse Performer Population

“The diverse needs are enormous. One of the issues that we’ve been talking about over the past four years is how to better address testing for gay performers and testing for folks with HIV. The last time that we began to just have a conversation on that, because we didn’t have the structures in place, [and] because we were so scared of reaching that conversation, it got so wildly out of hand, and TTS made a unilateral decision to change our testing policy before we even had a talk about it as a group. And that’s where we’re at now.”

Performers Need to Get Directly Involved As Consumers

“Testing starts with performers and ends with performers. Performers are the ones going to the lab, they are the ones whose health is immediately impacted. And right now you really don’t have power as consumers. And trying to advocate for that power has been difficult. PASS can be a tool to direct what you need and make systems that you can better address and articulate and interact with.”

A Lab of Our Own

“Our immediate solution is that we are trying to create a lab and community center of our own. And when I say ‘lab,’ I don’t mean the front-facing testing center. I mean the machines that are processing the test results themselves. We want control of the entire supply chain. We want to be able to adapt to whatever the health needs of our community are. When COVID first started, I was entirely reliant on CET to choose what kind of COVID test they wanted to conduct and TTS created their own proprietary [test] regardless of what we could have wanted specifically for ourselves. With our lab, we can do what we want.”

Improved Turnaround Times and Other Priorities

“Our current plan is to set up a lab in [Los Angeles] and be able to process samples nationally. We’d be able to partner with individual draw centers anywhere in the country. It also means dedicated turnaround times; instead of competing against whatever other samples are being processed, we would have a lab specifically dedicated to the needs of our industry, prioritizing our industry.”

The Non-Profit Factor

“It’s also nonprofit, meaning that we can dramatically reduce costs based on access to different grant funding. We would be required to publish our financials annually so you’d be able to see exactly where money is going. Right now, just within the PASS system, three to four million dollars is being spent on testing. I think we have an opportunity to both reduce that cost and reinvest it in ourselves.”

TTS and CET Could Return to PASS

“This feels like the best way to regain control and build a network for ourselves, [but] that wouldn’t mean excluding TTS or CET from the process — if they wanted to continue to participate, offer the same test results — but it would give us the ability to negotiate what we need for ourselves.”

O’Brien cited a “need for increased governance structure. We want participation from the community. We need more input and we need more direct ways of interacting with you all, and moving forward — that’s the current direction of PASS.”

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