SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Gov. Gavin Newsom bemoaned the current status of lab testing for coronavirus as he gave an update of COVID-19 cases in the state Thursday.

At a press conference in Sacramento Thursday morning, Newsom said 198 people in the state have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, 21 more that the previous day’s total.

A fourth death from the virus was reported in the Los Angeles area, said Newsom.

As far as testing, Newsom said 1,573 tests have been completed and the state currently has the ability to perform 8,227 tests, with 18 state labs now performing tests as well as one private lab and four hospitals across the state.

As the testing has continued to develop among the various locations, it’s been discovered that many of the testing kits provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are missing the key components to conducts the analyses.

“The test kits do not include in every case the RNA extraction kits, the reagents, the chemicals, the solutions that are components of the broader tests. This is imperative that the federal government and labs across the United States, not just state of California, get the benefit of all the ingredients, the components of the test. I am surprised this is not more of the national conversation,” said Newsom. “I think it’s very much in line with your going to the store and purchasing a printer but forgetting to purchase the ink.”

The missing components were used to extract genetic material from the nasal and cheek swabs gathered from people being tested. The demand for the reagents has been exacerbating the backlog on the testing.

Newsom said the state was helping provide some of the missing components to state labs, while commercial labs and private hospitals were also helping fulfill the shortages of components. Newsom said Quest Diagnostics was expected to open two new labs by the end of the month, the three labs would be able to process more than 5,000 tests a day.

By contrast, South Korea has tested more than 230,000 people and has developed the ability to test 15,000 people a day.

The state was also working to set up centralized testing sites by next week which would allow many more people around the state to be tested in a system coordinated with the state’s private and public partners.

“They are improving but there are still challenges,” said Newsom. “We need to own up to that and we need to be forthright and honest to what those are.”

Mass gatherings: No more than 250

Newsom signed an order limiting non-essential gatherings in the state to no more that 250 people, larger events should be canceled or postponed until at least the end of March. Newsom’s order supersedes the guidance from the White House COVID-19 Task Force issued Wednesday for Santa Clara County and three counties in Washington state.

The governor said the order would affect Major League Baseball season openers in California and he expects similar limits on mass gatherings to extend to other parts of the country.

The ban on non-essential gatherings currently does not include casinos, card rooms, theaters and large amusement parks such as Disneyland, but that discussions on those type of spaces were underway.

“The complexity of their unique circumstances requires additional conversation, different kind of engagement,” said Newsom. “I assure you we are moving quickly toward a resolution in those spaces … They raise enough legitimate concerns and questions in the short run that we found it appropriate to exclude them from this general order today and advance those conversations with earnest later this afternoon and hopefully have some clarity and guidelines in the very immediate future in terms of those venues.”

Grand Princess update

The process to remove passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland was expected to be finished by the end of the day.

Newsom said 1,963 people have been taken off the boat as of last night, with 511 passengers removed Wednesday. An additional 476, mostly foreign passengers are expected to be removed Thusday.

Most of the 1,075 crew members will be quarantined on the ship. A handful of crew members have already left the U.S. on repatriated flights.

There were three flights scheduled with cruise ship evacuees destined for Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego and one flight to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia.

Newsom said Lackland Air Force Base in Texas was only accepting cruise ship passengers from Texas and no other U.S. citizens. “That’s disappointing. Folks in Georgia are doing more and the people, of course, of the state of California have always done more,” said Newsom. “That has not helped in our logistics, to be candid with you. But it is what it is.”

Newsom said eight people remain hospitalized after removal from the ship out of 36 people originally sent to hospitals.

Aside from a handful of state parks and a 120-room hotel in San Carlos, Newsom said the state is looking to secure additional assets such as state lands, fairgrounds and  armories to house quarantined passengers.

 

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