Teachers should have little to no issue being tested for the novel coronavirus when in-person classes resume, state health officials said. (Photo via Prasesh Shiwakoti/Unsplash)

The state of California has secured a contract with a Massachusetts-based company to more than double COVID-19 coronavirus testing capacity, shorten result turnaround times and lower testing costs, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

The agreement with the diagnostics company PerkinElmer will add the capacity to process 150,000 coronavirus tests per day to the state’s current testing average of about 100,000 tests per day.

The contract also includes a requirement to process and disperse test results in 24 to 48 hours.

“Once you get past a few days, those test results lose their resonance,” Newsom said.

The increased testing capacity will not only help the state track the virus’ spread at a more granular level but also help public health officials make more efficient reopening decisions for both businesses and schools, according to Newsom.

“If we’re going to sustainably reopen, we have to have the testing capacity,” Newsom said. “We have to have the results in a much more efficient period of time, allowing us to make decisions on contact tracing, isolation, quarantine and the like.”

Coronavirus tests currently cost between $150 and $200, only about $100 of which can be reimbursed through Medicare and Medicaid, according to Newsom.

Under the new agreement, as testing capacity increases, the cost per test will decrease, ultimately falling to $30.78 per test when the PerkinElmer lab begins processing 150,000 tests per day.

The state has slowly built up its daily testing capacity above 100,000 and had topped an average of 130,000 tests per day before the recent West Coast heat wave and subsequent wildfires slowed that progress.

In addition to the coronavirus’ potency on its own, state public health officials have expressed their desire to hedge against a coming flu season and prevent two widespread respiratory illnesses in the fall and winter.

“As a doctor, I will tell you it’s going to be hard to tell the difference,” between the flu and the coronavirus, said state Sen. Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento.

“Being able to have a test that, at no additional costs, will be able to tell us whether someone has COVID, the flu or both is going to be very important,” he said.

More than 10.8 million coronavirus tests have been conducted across the state since the pandemic began, according to Newsom, and the state’s average daily positivity rate over the last 14 days has declined to 6.1 percent.

In addition, the seven-day average daily positivity rate remains under 6 percent at 5.8 percent, Newsom said.

Hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have fallen by 17 and 18 percent, respectively, over the last 14 days.

Newsom expressed cautious optimism about the decline in the state’s positive case rate but cautioned against people letting their guard down.

“The pandemic is still among us,” Newsom said. “It’s nice to see that growth rate begin to decline, but (there is) growth nonetheless in terms of positive cases coming in every day.”