SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Looking ahead to the oncoming flu season and the impact on California’s current coronavirus testing apparatus, Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday unveiled a new partnership with a diagnostics firm to revamp the state’s COVID-19 testing.
The new partnership is aimed at reducing costs while improving reliability and turnaround time for COVID tests.
Newsom said California will partner with Massachusetts-based PerkinElmer to double the state’s testing capacity, which would include building out a new laboratory with full supply chain to provide reliable COVID-19 testing with guaranteed results within 24-48 hours.
California has administered 10.8 million tests since the pandemic started, averaging 100,000 tests a day with an average cost of $150-200 each, Newsom said. However, the turnaround time is averaging 7 days, which often defeats the purpose of the costly tests and inhibits critical contact tracing.
Newsom said PerkinElmer will increase the state’s testing capacity up to 250,000 per day with each test costing from about $48 each for 40,000 additional tests to $31 each for 150,000 additional tests.
With flu season approaching, Newsom said the demand for testing for both flu and COVID-19 will continue to rise and will require an approach he says the federal government needed to have enabled from the beginning of the pandemic.
“This is exactly what the federal government should be doing. And had the federal government done this some time ago, you wouldn’t see average costs of tests at $150 to $200, costing the taxpayers quite literally, tens of billions of dollars, costing employers billions and billions of dollars, costing the health plans billions of dollars as well,” Newsom said. “We think by advancing this partnership as only California can with the scale of our purchasing power and the need to test more people in this state than any other state in this nation that we will be able to use that market scalability to drive down costs across the spectrum.”
Newsom said a change in federal testing guidelines, which has generated criticism among health experts, will not change how things are done in California. “We’re influenced by those who are experts in the field and feel very differently. So, with respect to the CDC, that is not the policy guideline that we will embrace or adopt here in the state of California,”
Expanding testing capacity is expected to drive down testing costs, improve reliability, break supply chain logjams and insure against a flu season “twindemic” with the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom said.
“There’s an old saying: If you continue to do what you’ve done, you’ll get what you’ve got,” Newsom said. “Right now we’re facing prospects moving forward over the next couple of months of moving into flu season. Flu season of course puts tremendous stress and demand for testing. People that develop flu-like symptoms are going to understandably and likely request that they get tested, not only for flu but COVID-19.”
In addition, Newsom added, the improved testing will be critical for rolling out new guidelines for California schools and businesses to reopen, which he said would be coming on Friday.
“You get in within 48 hours, certainly 24 hours, then we have the ability to make decisions in real-time that will advance our efforts to reopen our schools for in-person education, reopen our businesses in a more effective and efficient manner — a more sustainable manner.”
The governor said state health officials would be issuing new sectoral guidelines for reopening based on established best practices as well as what officials have learned in recent weeks.
“We’re working with local health officials on addressing their concerns and augmenting those guidelines based on their concerns. So Friday expect that list and expect some other announcements,” said Newsom.
California has already had a partnership over the last three decades with PerkinElmer, which conducts newborn screening in the state and other genetic testing programs.
Newsom said the state’s average daily positivity rate over the last 14 days has declined to 6.1 percent. In addition, the seven-day average daily positivity rate remains under 6 percent at 5.8 percent, Newsom said.
California reported 150 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, after reporting 105 deaths on Monday. A total of 12,407 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have fallen by 17 and 18 percent, respectively, over the last 14 days.
Newsom expressed cautious optimism about the decline in the state’s positive case rate but cautioned against people letting their guard
“The pandemic is still among us,” Newsom said. “It’s nice to see that growth rate begin to decline, but (there is) growth nonetheless in terms of positive cases coming in every day.”