California could have thousands of more test kits and multiple new laboratories up and running to detect the virus associated with the COVID-19 infection as soon as next week, Gov. Gavin Newson said during a Thursday press conference.
The state has 8,227 test kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, but it can only use a fraction of them because most are missing a compound and chemicals needed to complete the tests, he said. California isn't alone. Other states have the same issue.
"I am surprised that this is not more of a national conversation," Newsom said. "It's like going to the store to purchase a printer but forgetting to purchase the ink."
The state is now transferring the missing components to the state's 18 laboratories that do the testing. Some labs have the kits but cannot use them until they receive the compounds, he said.
Newsom said the state is about to ramp up additional testing capacity through various other sources. San Juan Capistrano-based commercial lab Quest Diagnostics has been conducting 1,200 tests a day for the past two days and the state expects Quest will open two new labs by the end of the month. By that time, he expects that Quest labs will have the capacity to run 5,000 tests per day, he said.
Only 48 hours ago, Santa Clara County officials said their county laboratory could only process 30 to 40 tests per day and Stanford University's laboratory, which has a new FDA-approved test, could only run 80 to 100 tests per day.
That news prompted members of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to direct county Public Health Department staff to come up with hard numbers on the number of tests that have been conducted and to formulate a plan for how they would get more tests. The supervisors also want to know when it is likely that testing will go from only suspected acute cases to "surveillance" testing of large groups of people. The county needs to understand the magnitude of the disease's spread and to identify people who are asymptomatic but who are walking around exposing the community, the supervisors said on Tuesday.
Newsom said the state is looking to centralize testing locations and would be meeting late on Thursday to consider locations for multiple sites throughout California. The additional laboratories would increase testing capacity. He hoped the facilities would be up and running by next week.
"We're working overtime to secure the resources," he said.
California also has four in-state laboratories at hospitals: Stanford University Medical Center, UCLA, UC San Diego and The City of Hope in Los Angeles.
"Those four hospitals are providing tests in addition to Quest and in addition to the 18 state labs. We expect that as early as next week Kaiser will start testing and we're working with UC Davis and UC Irvine to complement those efforts, so we'll go from four to seven hospital sites as early as next week," he said.
The state is also partnering with out-of-state commercial testing facilities to ramp up capacity, he said.
Quest Diagnostics said in a statement that it introduced its new COVID-19 lab test on March 9, Providers anywhere in the U.S. can order the new test service. The Quest Diagnostics' SARS-CoV-2 RNA, Qualitative Real-Time RT-PCR test is performed on respiratory specimens collected by healthcare providers and forwarded to Quest's lab. The test is currently being used for patients meeting the CDC's criteria for COVID-19 testing.
"We are also scaling capacity now with the aim to validate and perform testing at other Quest Diagnostics high-complexity laboratories serving the United States. We expect to be able to perform tens of thousands of tests a week within the next six weeks," the company said.