The automatic renewal, which California Health and Human Services Agency spokesperson Sami Gallegos confirmed to me Sunday night, comes as the state faces scrutiny for its failure to release a report investigating “significant deficiencies” at the lab. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said the full report would be made available in mid-March. More than seven months later, it is nowhere to be found.
“I urge you to halt auto-renewal of the contract,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk wrote in a late October letter to the state’s top health officials, arguing that it “would be irresponsible to let any contract auto-renew when serious allegations remain unanswered and the report out of public reach.”
Gallegos told me in a statement: “The state plans to continue to have the Valencia Branch Laboratory operational to ensure that we have adequate testing capabilities going into the winter months. We will continue to evaluate our need for the laboratory as we do with all aspects of our response. The state can elect to terminate the agreement ‘without case’ (sic) with 45 days’ notice. To date, the state has paid PerkinElmer $716 million to operate the laboratory, with majority of funds recovered through the federal funds and health insurance claims.”
Meanwhile, the lab has consistently struggled to meet its mandate of processing 150,000 tests a day and turning results around quickly. According to the most recent state data, the Valencia Branch Lab processed less than 195,000 tests for the week ending Oct. 23 and returned only 40% of test results within 24 hours — one of the lowest rates in the state. The lab also has a history of high rates of invalid, lost or cancelled test results. According to CBS Sacramento, 1 out of every 42 tests processed at Valencia as of August did not return a clear positive or negative result.
PerkinElmer did not respond last week to questionsfrom ABC 7 News about the contract renewal.
Gallegos said that more than 1,600 schools are using the lab for COVID-19 testing — but that doesn’t include the state’s largest district, Los Angeles Unified. Former Superintendent Austin Beutner told CalMatters Sunday that LAUSD signed a testing contract with private company Summerbio in June 2020 — a few months before the state made public its contract with PerkinElmer. Beutner said that each test costs the district about $12 (compared to the $53 charged by PerkinElmer during the first two weeks of October) and that the deal stipulated the district wouldn’t pay anything if accuracy thresholds and 24-hour results weren’t met. State data shows Summerbio returns 99% of test results within 24 hours.
Beutner: “LA Unified reviewed the PerkinElmer price and terms and elected to stay with Summerbio because the price and terms were materially better for the school district.”
Interestingly, the state’s contract with PerkinElmer also allows it to cancel the deal if COVID-19 testing “has become commercially available at lower cost” and PerkinElmer is unable to achieve “comparable cost reduction.”
A Message from our Sponsor
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 4,647,587confirmed cases(+0.2% from previous day) and 71,519 deaths(+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
The last-minute pivot is eerily similar to an episode from August 2020, in which Newsom backed out of a prime-time speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention hours before his scheduled speech. Then, to cap off the whirlwind series of events, Newsom announced he would be giving virtual remarks after all — just moments before he appeared via a cell phone livestream.
2.California confronts crime uptick
Three indications that crime will likely be a top issue for many California voters in the 2022 elections:
California’s beleaguered bullet train project has cut through disadvantaged San Joaquin Valley communities, displacing homes, businesses and residents and fueling drug deals and crimes in certain areas, the Los Angeles Times reports. For example, after the high-speed rail authority paid the city of Wasco to relocate a farmworkers’ housing site, the vacant units turned into a crime scene. “Many of the units have been set on fire. There are homeless folks there, others hiding out, doing drug deals and storing stolen goods,” said city manager Scott Hurlbert.
3.CSU works to bring students back
As California public schools turn to TikTok and sleek marketing campaigns in an effort to boost declining enrollment, the California State University system is embarking on its own initiative to lure back students who dropped out during the pandemic — and help CSU reach its ambitious goal of a 70% six-year graduation rate by 2025. Some of CSU’s methods — like personally encouraging students with good grades to re-enroll in classes and launching a digital planner to help visualize degree paths — have been met with praise, while others — such as redesigning core classes where a higher percentage of low-income students and students of color receive Ds and Fs — are more controversial, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports.
In other higher-education news, USC is in the midst of yet another scandal. On Friday, USC President Carol Folt acknowledged the university waited too long to notify students about numerous allegations of drugging and sexual assault at Sigma Nu fraternity parties. USC authoritieson Sept. 30 were informed of five to seven of these incidents, but didn’t notify the community until Oct. 20 — four days after yet another student reported a sexual assault at Sigma Nu. The university has since suspended Sigma Nu and is enforcing a moratorium on all fraternity parties.
We are dedicated to explaining how state government impacts our lives. Your support helps us produce journalism that makes a difference. Thank you!