State auto-renews Valencia lab contract

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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The PerkinElmer COVID-19 laboratory’s $1.7 billion contract was quietly auto-renewed Sunday amid allegations of poor management and ongoing state investigations of the Valencia lab. 

PerkinElmer, a Massachusetts-based diagnostics company, was tasked with increasing California’s daily COVID-19 testing numbers by 150,000 via a no-bid contract with the state at the 134,287-square-foot industrial building on Livingston Avenue. 

However, a review of the lab conducted by the California Department of Public Health’s Laboratory Field Services earlier this year uncovered thousands of inconclusive or erroneous test results among other issues, ultimately giving the lab an “immediate jeopardy” designation — which is reportedly “the most severe and egregious threat to the health and safety of recipients,” according to the oversight group

PerkinElmer stated 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, in its most recent update on the situation in a Feb. 22 press release. 

PerkinElmer has since deferred comment to the California Department of Public Health, whose officials have not responded to any requests for comment from The Signal as of the publication of this story. 

The automatic renewal comes as state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, continues to put pressure on the state and Gov. Gavin Newsom to release the full report, which was scheduled to be released by mid-March. Since then, state officials have been unable to provide a definitive date on when the final report would be released. 

“It’s par for the course,” Wilk said of the auto-renewal. “This governor just does not want to be held accountable for any of his actions. He came and visited the (lab) site and launched it with great fanfare … so he’s there to suck in all the adulation, but when the reality doesn’t meet the rhetoric, he’s nowhere to be found.” 

Wilk has delivered two letters to the California Health and Human Services Agency, calling for the final investigative report of the lab to be released to the public and a halt of the auto-renewal so the lab can be held accountable.  

In his second letter, Wilk noted the state Public Health’s Turnaround Time Dashboard, which reports testing turnaround times for all the state’s labs, shows that more than half, or 53%, of the Valencia lab’s tests take two or more days to complete, whereas a majority of other labs are making a 24-hour turnaround, according to most recent data from Oct. 17-23

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