State to examine Valencia COVID lab after allegations

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

California laboratory experts have been deployed to a PerkinElmer COVID-19 laboratory in Valencia to investigate allegations about poor management, state public health officials said Monday. 

PerkinElmer, a Massachusetts-based diagnostics company, was tasked with increasing California’s daily COVID-19 tests by 150,000 via its $1.4 billion contract with the state at the 134,287-square-foot industrial building on Livingston Avenue

From the Valencia lab, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced its opening in late October, saying the facility would increase testing by 75% and improve the turnaround time from five to seven days to about 48 hours. 

That hasn’t been the case, though, as fewer than 20,000 tests have been conducted per day — which were billed to the state at a rate of more than 100,000 daily, according to a news report by TV station CBS13 in Sacramento. 

Whistleblowers have reported lab technicians sleeping, COVID test swabs found in restrooms, a lack of documented competency and a high number of inconclusive tests, which state officials told CBS13 was due to the type of test used at the lab. The tests can detect lower levels of viral load and those are reported as inconclusive, according to the company’s response. 

In an emailed statement, Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for the California Health and Human Services agency, said her agency is taking all complaints or allegations of wrongdoing at the laboratory seriously. 

“We have deployed a team of state laboratory experts to the laboratory to investigate the allegations,” she said. “The state’s contract with PerkinElmer contains strong contractual language to ensure that we protect the state and taxpayers. We need to let the laboratory experts do their work and see if complaints are substantiated, and then the state will take any action that may be merited.” 

PerkinElmer officials also acknowledged the reported allegations and said they’re working with the state to investigate the matter. 

“At the Valencia laboratory, dedicated individuals at both PerkinElmer and CDPH have worked extremely hard to open the facility and ramp up testing over the past several months in order to meet the state’s testing demands,” officials said in a prepared statement. “We take any complaints or allegations of wrongdoing seriously and are fully cooperating with California to investigate the issues raised on the report last night and will continue to be fully transparent with CDPH on any concerns they have.” 

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said he was concerned should the allegations turn out to be true. 

“This is in my district and I am very troubled by it,” he said Monday. “This was allegedly a first-rate company that (Newsom) not only recruited for California, but they’re supposed to be doing testing in Oregon and Washington, as well. If they’re only doing 20,000 tests but we are paying them for 100,000 — that’s wrong.”

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