SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California’s health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, confirmed CBS13’s findings Tuesday after we uncovered a surprisingly high number of inconclusive test results coming out of the state’s new COVID testing lab in its first week.

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Ghaly Confirms High Number Of Inconclusive Results

“We did identify that a higher number than expected (number) of tests in the first week came back inconclusive,” Ghaly said at his weekly public briefing Tuesday in response to questions from CBS13 investigative reporter Julie Watts.

Watts’s family was among the first to have their COVID test results processed by the state’s new lab. Two out of their four results came back inconclusive, and they were not alone.

While the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has not responded to requests for the total number of inconclusive tests from the new state lab, Placer County did provide CBS13 with local data that indicates that one out of every 13 Placer County COVID-19 test results processed by the new lab in its first week, came back inconclusive.

This came as a surprise to the director of Nevada’s public health lab, Mark W. Pandori, who commented on CBS13’s results when CDPH would not.

“We do get inconclusive results, all labs do, it’s just that they are rare,” Pandori said.

In fact, the percent of inconclusive results that Placer County got from the state lab last week was 61 times higher than the percentage of inconclusive results that Placer County has received from all labs since the start of the pandemic.

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Dr. Ghaly said that the state believes they have identified the problem.

Inconclusive Tests Due to Lack of Chemical Reaction, State Says

“One of the validation steps, that confirms that the necessary chemical reaction to run the test, didn’t occur for some of those inconclusive tests. We’ve identified some of the issues with why they didn’t occur and have since corrected it,” Ghaly said.

“We feel like we’re on the road to having fewer inconclusive tests so that the lab can do what it was meant to do,” Ghaly added, “which was provide timely information about someone’s COVID status to equip public health departments and other entities to track the transmission of disease.”

He urged anyone with inconclusive results to get re-tested. “We will, through our own efforts, try to expedite the results,” he said.

Promises of “Expedited Results”

The state’s $1.7 billion contract with PerkinElmer requires the lab return results in 24 to 48 hours.

However, five days after Watts’s son was retested, and nine days after his original inconclusive test, his re-test results also came back inconclusive.

Her husband finally received his results five days after his initial test. They were also inconclusive. He was still waiting for the re-test results as of this writing, five days after his retest.

As of this update, the new lab had not provided either her husband or her son with conclusive results after 13 days and four tests total.

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NOTE: This story was updated to include subsequent testing result details. 

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CBS13 Investigates Problems at California’s COVID Testing Lab

Julie Watts