Newsom visits new COVID-19 lab in Valencia

Kevin Carmody, right, an applied genomics specialist at the new COVID-19 testing facility in Valencia, shows Gov. Gavin Newsom a liquid handler on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Tammy Murga / The Signal
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Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the Santa Clarita Valley Friday to announce the opening of the new PerkinElmer laboratory in Valencia, which will increase the COVID-19 testing capacity statewide.

The opening of the new laboratory will increase testing for COVID-19 by 75% and provide a quicker turnaround time of about 48 hours, whereas the previous average turnaround time was five to seven days, according to Newsom.

“We recognized a number of months ago that if we continued down the path we were on, we simply would not meet the demand, the need and the desire of epidemiologists and our partners to provide for the amble accessibility of our testing protocols, meaning we simply did not have the resources,” Newsom said.

PerkinElmer, the Massachusetts-based diagnostics company, signed a lease on the 134,287-square-foot industrial building on Livingston Avenue in Valencia in early September, after partnering with California to improve COVID-19 testing capacity and efficiency.

Newsom added the new testing facility is expected to increase daily COVID-19 tests by 150,000 once fully operational. The lab is expected to be fully operational by the first quarter of next year. 

PerkinElmer’s new laboratory on Livingston Avenue in Valencia opened Friday and is tasked with helping California process an additional 150,000 COVID-19 tests a day. Tammy Murga/ The Signal

On Friday, several employees had commenced their work, including Kevin Carmody, an applied genomics specialist, who showed Newsom how PerkinElmer’s JANUS G3 liquid handler is streamlining the lab’s workflow. 

“(The liquid handler) is enabling us to test thousands of samples every day, while keeping human error and day-to-day variability down to a minimum,” he said. “This one instrument alone can process about 20,000 samples in a 24-hour period.”

The average cost of the PCR test, which is the test given to detect the virus’ genetic material, is about $150. Newsom said once the new testing facility is fully operational, the cost of a test will decrease to $30.

“We are now providing these tests at a cost to you and a cost to the taxpayer, which is one-fifth of the average cost we are currently paying for the same test in this state,” said Newsom. 

The total cost of the new facility is $100.2 million, according to Newsom. Provisions in the contract allow for reimbursement to the state for the upfront cost, so for every test conducted, Newsom said $5.51 will be set aside for reimbursement.

The state has partnered with multiple companies for the project, including Sutherland, a data analytics company to process reimbursements, and FedEx to collect and transport samples.

The lab currently employs 300 people, which will increase to 700 once the facility is fully operational, Newsom said, and will process testing for both COVID-19 and the seasonal influenza.

“It was just a few months ago, less than 10 weeks ago, we announced a new partnership with PerkinElmer,” said Newsom, “a partnership that would advance our goal to substantially increase the total number of tests that we could conduct here in the state of California.”

Staff Writer Tammy Murga contributed to this report.

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