CA probes whistleblower allegations of mismanagement, incompetence at SoCal COVID lab

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (KABC) -- The state of California has passed 5 million vaccine doses distributed as the number of daily COVID-19 cases continues to decline.

But the accuracy of those testing numbers is now being called into question as problems are being alleged at one of the state's major labs in Southern California.

The California Department of Public Health is investigating whistleblower allegations of mismanagement and incompetence at the PerkinElmer lab in Santa Clarita.

Whistleblowers claim a number of issues at the lab that could be affecting test results.

They say there are unlicensed technicians and people asleep while processing swabs for testing.

They also claim cases of contamination errors and samples that are being mishandled that could impact statewide results.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has sent a team to investigate issues at the lab.

State Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Murrieta, is asking for an investigation.

"Considering the lack of transparency surrounding the 'science' that is the basis for the stay at home orders and for shutting down businesses, I hope the administration and the California Department of Public Health come forward with real answers to what is happening at our testing facilities," said Melendez, who is vice-chair of the Senate Health Committee.

"The state is taking this very seriously and we're looking into the allegations," Tomas Aragon, director of California's health department, told lawmakers on Monday. He didn't respond to any specific allegations or offer a timeline for the investigation.

PerkinElmer is contracted by the state to process up to 150,000 coronavirus tests daily by March at the lab in Santa Clarita. Some reports indicate the lab is actually processing a much lower number at this point.

In the meantime, Los Angeles County officials say 80 percent of people age 65 and older still haven't been vaccinated. The county will expand COVID-19 vaccine availability in the next two to three weeks to include front-line workers in education, food and agriculture and law enforcement. But with limited vaccine supply that will take weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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