CA opens new lab in L.A. County expected to dramatically ramp up coronavirus testing capacity at lower cost

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As California sees an uptick in the coronavirus positivity rate, the state on Friday opened a massive laboratory in Valencia meant to dramatically ramp up testing capacity.

The $25 million lab in Los Angeles County will begin processing tests this month and eventually be able to process up to 150,000 coronavirus tests a day when it reaches full capacity by March 2021, officials said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the ramp-up is necessary with demand for testing expected to spike statewide during the flu season as more people begin seeing the similar symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu.

“A minimum estimate of 75% increase in our total testing capacity here in the state of California is happening just at the right time,” the governor said.

So far, more than 18 million coronavirus tests have been conducted statewide, with around 120,700 tests reported Thursday.

“We recognized a number of months ago that if we continued down the path we were on, we simply would not meet the demand,” Newsom said as he stood in the new lab. “We simply did not have the resources.”

While it currently costs about $150 to $200 per coronavirus test, the large facility is expected to process the tests at nearly $31 each when it is operating at full capacity, the governor said. It should take 24 to 48 hours to get results back.

“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 Medicare system federally, is beyond me,” Newsom said. “But the state of California, the nation’s largest state … is doing our part.”

State officials said the increase in testing will enable California to test more in schools, hospitals and “hard-to-reach communities.”

“The first step in really getting a handle on the pandemic in California is testing,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

Officials described plans to deploy mobile units and partner with community-based organizations and churches to make testing more accessible.

“Remember, more testing is a good thing, more testing is foundational and fundamental to getting around this disease and mitigating its spread,” Newsom said. “More testing is something we all should be promoting and one should not be ashamed by identifying more cases.”

The state spent $25 million to build the facility in partnership with PerkinElmer, a testing and research company, and another $100 million in upfront costs, including for equipment and establishing the framework. The governor said the state will be reimbursed for the upfront costs.

More than 920,000 people have tested positive for the virus in California and 17,574 have died of COVID-19, according to a Los Angeles Times tally.

California has repeatedly stressed the importance of increasing testing to fight the spread of the virus and move towards additional reopenings. The beginning of the pandemic was marked by scarce supplies and a scramble to buy more test kits and open up more testing sites and labs.

“We move from a scarcity mindset to one of more abundance,” the governor said.

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