Wilk calls for release of Valencia COVID-19 lab report

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

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, is putting pressure on the California Health and Human Services Agency, calling for the investigative report regarding the PerkinElmer COVID-19 laboratory in Valencia to be released.

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.

In February, California laboratory experts were deployed to the lab following allegations of poor management, with the state expected to release the report conducted by California Department of Public Health’s Laboratory Field Services, or LFS, by mid-March, according to Wilk. 

“I’m just frustrated with the lack of accountability by Sacramento, in general, and Gov. (Gavin) Newsom, in particular,” Wilk said, noting that it was a no-bid contract. “It’s a lot of money, $1.4 billion, and if you’ve read the report, they’ve been devastating in terms of not fulfilling the contract.”

Newsom said the facility would increase testing by 75% and improve the turnaround time from five to seven days to about 48 hours when announcing the lab’s opening in October of last year. However, whistleblowers’ reports indicated that had not proven to be the case. 

An LFS investigation conducted late last year uncovered thousands of inconclusive or erroneous test results coming out of the Valencia lab, Wilk noted in his letter to CHHS Secretary Mark Ghaly, citing reporting conducted by TV station CBS13 in Sacramento, which indicated that fewer than 20,000 tests have been conducted per day as of February — which were billed to the state at a rate of more than 100,000 daily.

In its most recent update on the situation following the announcement of the state’s report, PerkinElmer provided an update on the Valencia lab in a Feb. 22 press release, noting that “the deficiencies identified by LFS have long since been resolved,” as the lab had provided additional information to the LFS that had yet to be incorporated in the report.

The lab had issued corrected reports for approximately 60 out of more than 1.5 million samples processed as of February, per the release.

“PerkinElmer is proud of this public-private collaboration with California to bring critical testing to the community,” Prahlad Singh, PerkinElmer’s president and CEO, said in a February prepared statement. “We uphold the highest quality and safety standards across all of our operations, and we have already addressed the issues that emerged in the early days since the Valencia testing site was established, despite just receiving the formal report from the December inspection.”

However, to date, the state’s report has not been made public and the Newsom administration has dodged questions about its status, according to Wilk, who hopes his letter will put pressure on state officials to release the report and answer questions on whether the problems have been addressed and why it was delayed.

“It is crucial that we receive a transparent and timely accounting of the issues regarding working conditions in the lab and the accuracy of the tests,” Wilk said in the letter. “While this is indeed an unprecedented pandemic, state contractors and agencies must still be held accountable. Delaying the public release of the report with little to no explanation is unacceptable and does not provide the level of service and transparency Californians deserve.”

The Valencia lab has since received accreditation with the College of American Pathologists, a third-party independent entity, joining PerkinElmer’s labs in Pennsylvania, India and China that already have the CAP accreditation, which was sought “so that Californians have no doubt about the quality of the services at the laboratory,” per the PerkinElmer release.

PerkinElmer deferred comment Tuesday to the California Department of Public Health, whose officials were unavailable for comment as of the publication of this story.

To read Wilk’s letter, visit bit.ly/3lA1q5r 

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