What to know about California’s Coronavirus testing expansion
By Jill Cowan
California officials on Wednesday flexed the market muscle of the nation’s most populous state, announcing a deal they said would more than double the state’s coronavirus testing capacity, driving down costs significantly.
“We are moving forward in a different direction to disrupt the market,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “We’re advancing this partnership as only California can with our purchasing power and the number of people we have.”
Coming in addition to the more than 100,000 tests conducted across the state on average each day, the new lab and supply chain run by the diagnostics company PerkinElmer, based in Massachusetts, will allow for 150,000 more tests per day, with a required turnaround of no more than two days, allowing public health officials to move quickly to identify outbreaks.
That speed and capacity, officials said, will be critical for safely reopening schools and businesses. Newsom said that he would unveil updated reopening guidelines on Friday.
The lab will ramp up starting this fall, a time at which experts worry a second wave of coronavirus cases will coincide with flu season, creating what Newsom described as a kind of respiratory “twindemic.”
He said the deal with PerkinElmer would allow health care workers in California to test simultaneously for the flu and the coronavirus at no additional cost.
The announcement comes not long after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly revised its testing guidelines to exclude people who don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, even if they have been exposed.
Public health experts, who attribute much of the virus’s spread to people who are infected but not symptomatic, called the guideline change alarming and dangerous.
California was the first state to recommend tests for some people without symptoms, and officials have been vocal about the need for widespread testing — particularly in populations that have been disproportionately affected by the virus, such as Latino Californians working in essential jobs.
But in mid-July, the state had to adjust its testing guidelines to be stricter, as the state contended with soaring cases and a national shortage of testing supplies.
On Wednesday, Newsom roundly rejected the CDC guidelines and positioned the new testing program as a kind of response to insufficient help from the federal government.
“This is exactly what the federal government should be doing,” he said. “If you had seen the federal government doing this, it would’ve saved taxpayers billions of dollars.”
State officials said the average cost of a coronavirus test currently ranges from $150 to $200. Once the new partnership is at full capacity, each test will cost as little as $31, although the higher figure also included things like staff protective gear, while The Sacramento Bee reported the lower price does not.
Testing availability has varied widely across the country, and waits for results have stretched into weeks in some cases, making it impossible to warn contacts in time to contain the spread.