A $25 million COVID-19 testing lab built by the state of California is a nightmare of sloppiness, according to a new report.
The report from KOVR-TV in Sacramento includes a comment from an unnamed whistleblower who told the station, “That lab should be shut down because they’re jeopardizing people’s lives.”
The lab opened in Valencia in October as Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed its wonders.
“This new laboratory will allow California to ensure its testing capacity is timely, equitable and cost-effective — just when Californians need it most,” he said in a statement.
Newsom said the lab, operated in partnership with the company PerkinElmer, would process 150,000 tests per day by March.
KOVR reported the company is being paid at the rate of 100,000 tests a day while fewer than 20,000 tests a day are being processed.
The report also said the lab leads the state in tests that come back inconclusive — with a rate of one out of every 34 tests, compared with the statewide rate of one out of 256.
KVOR said it interviewed “more than half a dozen whistleblowers, including several current and former employees at the lab” who cited “contamination, constantly changing protocols as well as unlicensed and inadequately trained staff as the reason for the high number of invalid and inconclusive results.”
The station said it was shown an email to staff concerning sample swabs found in restrooms, something that happened more than once.
When asked why this would take place, a whistleblower identified as Dottie replied, “Who knows what they’re doing? They’re not supervised.”
Whistleblowers shared photos and videos of technicians watching videos or sleeping while processing tests.
Lab techs sleeping while processing COVID samples for testing. COVID test swabs found in the restrooms. These are just two of the concerning allegations from whistleblowers about what’s happening inside the state’s new billion-dollar COVID testing lab. https://t.co/auNtf9y545
— CBS Sacramento CBS13 (@CBSSacramento) February 8, 2021
The whistleblowers also said there were too few qualified supervisors and provided documentation to KOVR indicating that at least one supervisor had no lab experience. Qualified technicians were also in short supply, they said.
“And the people that are training them are also unlicensed,” Dottie pointed out. “When they don’t have enough training, they don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong.”
The California Department of Public Health said in a statement to KOVR, “All individuals who are working in the laboratory … handling specimens are credentialed and trained.”
“This is FALSE!!!!!!!!!!!” one whistleblower said in reply. “I was running samples my first day with zero clinical experience. So were the rest of my colleagues.”
Dora Goto, governmental affairs co-chairwoman for the California Association for Medical Laboratory Technology, told KOVR that technicians need to have certain qualifications.
Goto also said sleeping on the job ought to be out of bounds. “These machines don’t run by themselves. Regardless of how automated they are. You should be at least awake,” she said.
A statement from the state said, “We are troubled by these allegations against our laboratory vendor and its employees and will investigate them immediately and thoroughly. If these claims are substantiated, they would represent a clear violation of our existing agreement with PerkinElmer and we would take swift action to fix these issues, up to and including termination of the contract.”
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