Less than two weeks after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the opening of a $120 million state COVID-19 testing lab in Valencia, the facility’s launch has been marred by an unexpectedly high number of inconclusive test results. The state’s top health officer confirmed the news on Tuesday, but said problems that caused the issue have been identified and addressed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated the opening of the lab — a partnership with testing company PerkinElmer — on Oct. 30. At the time Newsom hailed it as a dramatic advancement in the state’s coronavirus-testing system, with an ultimate goal of processing 150,000 tests per day by next March.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary, told reporters Tuesday that in the lab’s first week of operations, it produced “a higher number than expected” of inconclusive test results. That’s a problem given the state is currently experiencing a second wave of COVID-19. On Tuesday alone, 11 of its counties were ordered to retreat further into more restrictive prevention measures.
“We have been working closely with the PerkinElmer team, with our lab directors, with the staff to ensure we have identified the reason for that and corrected it. We believe that we have,” Ghaly said. “Not only time will tell, but we’re continuing to watch those results.”
Ghaly said part of the issue was that a chemical reaction necessary to properly run the tests didn’t occur in some of the inconclusive cases. He said health officials have identified some of the issues that caused the reaction to fail, and the problem has been corrected.
“So we feel we’re on the road to having fewer inconclusive tests so that the lab can do what it was meant to do, which is provide timely information about someone’s COVID status, to equip public health departments and other entities to track the transmission of disease,” he said.
The $125 million lab is also expected to dramatically lower the cost of coronavirus testing. Newsom said last month the state has been paying an average of $150 per COVID-19 test — a major expense considering the more than 18 million tests that had been conducted as of late October. The new lab is expected to lower that cost to $30.78 per test when it is at full capacity.
Today, California opened a NEW state funded #COVID19 testing lab.
Tried it out myself.
– DOUBLE CA’s testing capacity
– Guarantee 24-48 hour turnaround for results
– Cut the cost of a test from $150 to $30.
We’re not waiting around for the federal government to act. pic.twitter.com/OKII180d7J
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) October 30, 2020
This isn’t the first major glitch in the state’s testing infrastructure. In August, it was revealed that between 250,000-300,000 of California’s COVID tests were backlogged in the state’s reporting system.
At the time, Ghaly said that the “the CalReady system was not built this volume of data,” before promising that extra servers redundancies had been added to bolster it. He also said the state was “accelerating development of a new system.” The lab in Valencia is a big part of that new system.
On Tuesday, Ghaly urged anyone who has received an inconclusive test result — either from the Valencia lab or any other facility — to get tested again.
“If you were tested because you were concerned about your symptoms or your exposures, please get re-tested if you have an inconclusive result,” he said. “We will, through our own efforts, try to expedite the result so we can give you timely information. And until you get that result, you should take appropriate precautions to protect yourself, protect those around you and make sure we don’t have additional transmission as we wait for that result.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
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