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'We're Swamped': LA Backlogged On Testing For Coronavirus

Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco, on March 12, 2020. (Josh Edelson/Getty Images)
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Testing Californians for the novel coronavirus remains hampered by a lack of key chemical components.

Calling it “imperative,” California Governor Gavin Newsom forcefully called upon federal officials, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to provide “all the ingredients” for the tests.

“The tests are not complete,” Newsom said at a press conference Thursday. “meaning the test kits do not include in every case the RNA extraction kits, the reagents, the chemicals, the solutions…. I’m surprised this is not more of a national conversation,” he said.

Unlike a pregnancy test, the coronavirus kit isn’t ready to go right out of the box (Newsom likened it to buying a printer without ink). The kits are configured more for a research lab than a hospital, and it takes four to six hours to perform the test on patient samples.

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About 1,500 Californians have been tested, though it’s likely that thousands of people have been exposed to the virus.

To fill in the gaps, Newsom said chemical components to complete the tests were being shared throughout the 18 labs in the state currently carrying out the testing. He said Quest Diagnostics, which has a lab in San Juan Capistrano, will open two new labs in California by the end of the month. He said the three labs, once online, will be able to process more than 5,000 tests per day.

Newsom said the state has distributed more than 8,000 kits to health care providers and is looking to centralize testing to increase efficiency.


Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told KPCC that the county’s labs tested 100 people over the last week and a half and are facing a significant backlog.

“We’re swamped,” Ferrer said, encouraging health care workers to send kits to commercial labs that have recently started offering testing.

Ferrer said her agency filed an application with the federal government to offer drive-through testing and is awaiting their approval.


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