CA Renews Contract With Troubled COVID Lab

Written by Amanda Angulo

During Halloween, while parents were having fun with their children trick-or-treating, the state of California decided to quietly renew a contract with a COVID lab for $1.7 billion. Some people may not see this a big deal, if it were not for this particular lab nearly losing its license in February, according to state officials. 

This lab was due for a report investigating “significant deficiencies” in mid-March of 2021, said the Newsom administration and the California Health and Human Services Agency. It is November now and the report is still nowhere to be seen. 

The lab is called the Valencia Branch Lab, which opened in October of 2020 is under the operation of a diagnostic company, PerkinElmer. After this company came on, problems began to arise immediately. According to whistleblowers, lab techs were sleeping during the processing of COVID samples, swabs were found in bathrooms, and staff were not properly trained. 

Even state health inspectors designated the lab as an “immediate jeopardy” because it represented “the most severe and egregious threat to the health and safety of recipients.” Additionally, this lab constantly struggles to meet the daily mandate of processing 150,000 tests a day and turning results quickly. They have one of the lowest rates in the states for giving back test results. This could be due to their history of losing and cancelling test results. 

Some officials have expressed their concerns over the disastrous renewal to an underqualified lab. Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, for example, wrote in a letter to state’s top health officials, urging them to stop the auto-renewal of the contract because it “would be irresponsible to let any contract auto-renew when serious allegations remain unanswered and the report out of public reach.”

Photo Cred: San Francisco Department of Public Health