State officials celebrated the opening of a laboratory Friday that they said will help expand California’s capacity to test for the novel coronavirus.
Speaking from the testing laboratory in Valencia, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the facility is the first step of the state’s testing agreement with the Massachusetts-based diagnostics company PerkinElmer.
Newsom praised state officials for their efforts to expedite the launch of the laboratory at a time when coronavirus cases are on the rise across the country and the annual flu season has begun.
“We were able to take something that, I quite literally am not exaggerating, typically takes three years to get done, and they got it done in eight weeks, under budget,” Newsom said.
Newsom first announced the agreement with PerkinElmer in late August, touting that it will add the capacity to process 150,000 coronavirus tests per day on top of the state’s current daily testing capacity, which is averaging around 120,000 per day.
The contract also includes a requirement that PerkinElmer process and disperse test results in 24 to 48 hours. Newsom has claimed test prices will fall as low as $30.78 as testing capacity expands.
The state has conducted nearly 18.5 million tests at around $150 per test, a cost Newsom said was unsustainable as the pandemic drags on.
“We can’t continue down that path, it makes no economic or fiscal sense,” he said. “That’s why we want to disrupt the entire process and the entire system, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”
State and local public health officials have reiterated for months the need for testing to be efficient, widespread and cheap to effectively track the spread of the virus.
Efficiently testing and reporting results for wide swaths of people will also make it easier for state and local contact tracers to investigate potential outbreaks and isolate those who are exposed to the virus.
“The first step in really getting a handle on the pandemic in California is testing,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.
“We talk to you about wearing your mask, about keeping distance, about reducing mixing, and all of those are absolutely critical to preventing,” he added, “but when you’re exposed, when you’re concerned or even when you’re not, having the availability of testing is that step that helps us understand where transmission is across the state.”
Newsom and Dr. Gil Chavez, the deputy director of the state’s Center for Infectious Diseases and the co-chair of the state’s COVID-19 testing task force, argued that Friday’s laboratory launch and the subsequent testing expansion through the PerkinElmer agreement will also allow the state to target areas that are at harder hit by the pandemic and may not have enough access to testing.
As part of the agreement, Chavez said, the state plans to deploy mobile testing units and partner with community organizations and churches to increase testing access to disadvantaged communities.
“We know that people of color, African Americans, Latinos are very heavily impacted by the pandemic. … So we want to make sure that those communities have prompt access to testing, testing that is not just available everywhere but also turns results back quickly,” Chavez said.
The laboratory in Valencia currently employs roughly 300 people and will employ some 700 people once it’s running at full capacity. It began testing its first samples this week, according to Newsom.
The state expects to have access to the PerkinElmer agreement’s full capacity of 150,000 tests per day by March.