California Ramps Up Covid Testing With $25 Million Processing Facility

A screenshot of California Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing the opening of a new coronavirus test-processing facility in Southern California.

(CN) — California opened a $25 million Covid-19 testing facility that will ramp up the state’s ability to confirm outbreaks just as the rest of the country faces a surge heading into flu season and the holidays.

In the last week of October, the United States reported more than half a million new cases over a seven-day period according to data from John Hopkins University. 

A steady uptick in cases across the country could spell a possible third wave for the novel coronavirus and California health officials stress that large swaths of the Golden State continue to see widespread infection.

On Thursday, California reported over 4,000 new confirmed cases. Los Angeles County accounted for 1,700 cases.

Governor Gavin Newsom toured the new PerkinElmer laboratory in the LA County city of Valencia on Friday. The facility will ensure rural and urban areas without easy access to testing can get their results in 48 hours or less.

The facility was built out of necessity and what would have taken years to complete took just a few months, Newsom said. California invested over $100 million to build the facility, set up the site with equipment and built partnerships with the private sector including PerkinElmer, a clinical testing company.

“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 by our epidemiologists, our health partners all across the state of California to provide ample accessibility, quality and equity of our testing protocols,” Newsom said at a press conference inside the facility. “Meaning we simply did not have the resources.”

Health officials estimate the facility will be able to process 150,000 tests a day by March, but is already up and operational.

That could provide help to nine California counties that remain in the state’s highest tier based on the rate of spread and available resources to fight the virus. With winter just around the corner, outdoor activities will be limited and more people will socialize with family indoor over the holidays in the coming weeks.

Even counties in the “minimal” tier are worried about the coming winter.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced Friday her the city would pause reopening indoor pools, bowling alleys, locker rooms and showers at gyms. And businesses that had gotten the go-ahead to expand seating capacity beginning next week, including movie theaters, restaurants and places of worship, will remain at 25% capacity for the time being.

The gradual increase in cases dovetails with flu season which typically arrives in December and peaks in January, meaning clinics, hospitals and doctor waiting rooms will be inundated with sick patients who are unsure which virus they caught.

Newsom called it “the twindemic.”

Standing inside the new facility Newsom said, “This lab is happening at the right time, at a time when it’s more challenging, not less challenging nationwide, to get timely results, this lab also promises to get results” within 48 hours, but with a goal of 24 hours.

Under its contract with PerkinsElmer, California will use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm if someone has the virus and change when better testing becomes available. Newsom said with increased volume the facility will be able to reduce cost to taxpayers to one-fifth of the average cost California pays now for tests.

PCR tests range from $100 to $200, a portion of which is covered by medical insurance, Medicare or Medi-Cal. California has processed over 18 million test results since the start of the pandemic.

When the Valencia facility is fully operational, the costs of tests will drop to roughly $31.

The key will be to serve communities lacking adequate access to testing, including rural parts of the state and urban centers that have seen some of the highest cases of infection and death according to California Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

California’s most recent uptick in cases is alarming but expected as the state has ramped up testing, Newsom said.

“More testing is a good thing,” said Newsom. “More testing is something we should be promoting.”

Overall, Newsom said the state-of-the-art facility was needed because of the lack of response by the federal government.

“Why the federal government hasn’t done this, why we haven’t seen more scale and more leverage in terms of our MediCal system, Medicaid federally, or our Medicare system federally, is beyond me,” said Newsom. “But the state of California, the nation’s largest state with 40 million people living in this state, is doing our part and we hope that will encourage others to do more still.”

The lack of response by the Trump administration might be attributed to President Donald Trump’s own feelings about the virus. At a Florida campaign rally on Thursday, he told the crowd they would be fine if they caught the virus.

“You know the bottom line, though? You’re gonna get better. You’re gonna get better,” said Trump. “If I can get better, anybody can get better. And I got better fast.”

Trump tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19 on Oct. 2. He received five-star medical treatment and around-the-clock care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, one of the nation’s most prominent military medical centers.

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