SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Parents are demanding answers now a month after the state was supposed to release its investigation into its troubled COVID testing lab. The lab is now being used to process tests for students across the state and delays last week led to canceled football games and a “positive” player on the field.

The state says “routine maintenance” caused the delays, but CBS13 has learned a “contamination issue last week” forced the lab to “halt production.”

CONTINUING COVERAGE:

CBS13 Investigates Problems at California’s COVID Testing Lab

When Every Game Counts

After a year without Friday night lights or in-person classes, “Every game is just a blessing,” said Tina Watts**, a Rocklin High football mom.

But before they can play, kids in several local counties still need a negative COVID test and that’s proving to be harder than anyone expected.

“There’s a lot of anxiety over whether we’re going to be able to get test results back in time,” said Nevada Union Athletic Director Daniel Crossen.

Last week, Crossen was forced to cancel Nevada Union’s game. Theirs was one of several schools across the region that didn’t get their results in time from the state’s troubled COVID testing lab.

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Rocklin High, where Watts’ son plays, had to cancel their game too.

“Ultimately, they failed our school and they failed our kids,” said Watts. “It’s just really heartbreaking, just crushing.”

Watts says the canceled game was a blow to the kids’ emotional and mental health, as every game during this short six-game season is crucial.

“In the wake of all this, our kids are suffering,” said Todd Venneri, whose son also uses the state lab to test before his Oakmont games.

He says the school contracts with a different lab but many of the football players test at the Placer County Maidu Facility instead, which uses the state lab.

“We knew that there was something up with the lab,” Venneri said after multiple team members’ results were delayed. His son took a costly last minute rapid test at a different lab and was cleared to play.

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Other schools that rely on the state lab, including Amador High School, were also cleared to play Friday after getting last-minute rapid antigen COVID tests from a different lab.

But when the state finally returned Amador’s PCR test results on Sunday, a player who had a negative rapid test result got a positive result from the state lab.

Now both teams are quarantined because of the lab’s delay.

Parents Want Answers 

“It’s one thing if (the test) is positive but when you don’t get (a result) at all, it’s a whole other level,” said Oakmont cheer-mom Michelle Peterson.

Peterson reached out to CBS13 after seeing our reports revealing whistleblower allegations from inside the state lab, ranging from unlicensed lab techs sleeping on the job to lost samples, wrong results and contamination issues.

In light of the problems with the school testing, Michelle wanted an update on the state’s lab investigation.

“There should already be a report available to the public,” she said.

And she’s right.

Why Hasn’t CDPH Released It’s Investigation? 

The state sent inspectors into the lab following our reports in February and later acknowledged that inspectors had previously found significant deficiencies at the lab in December.

According to this document from the state, it appears the lab was facing an “immediate jeopardy” designation which denotes “the most severe and egregious threat to the health and safety.” The lab had until March to address the deficiencies.

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In this February press release, the state vowed to make the full report public by mid-March. But now, the California Department of Public Health will only say “the investigation is ongoing.”

“What are they still investigating?” Peterson asked. “If they haven’t fixed their problems, how are we supposed to trust them?”

“We are due an explanation,” Crossen stressed.

“What’s taking so long?” Venneri wanted to know.

“The state owes it to the people of California and to these kids (to release the report),” Watts pointed out.

The Impact On Schools

Parents across the region are demanding answers as schools are now being encouraged to “partner with the state lab”.

The state’s Valencia Branch Lab (VBL) offers low-cost testing, thanks to a $1.7 billion dollar taxpayer-funded contract with Perkin Elmer, which requires the lab return results in 24 to 48 hours.

“It was well beyond 48 hours,” Crossen pointed out.

He says some of his Nevada Union players were still waiting for last week’s results this week and Amador High reported that players who tested last Monday didn’t get their results until Sunday.

“If you’re encouraging somebody to use the lab, then the lab should be doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” Peterson insists.

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PerkinElmer is contractually required to process up to 150,000 tests per day. Lab records indicate they processed roughly 72,000 samples in total last week including hundreds of so-called “canceled” samples that were not tested.

Data provided by the state reveals the lab reported more than 2000 invalid, lost, or canceled samples in March alone. Internal data obtained by CBS13 indicates there were far more.

However, even based on the state’s conservative numbers, roughly 1 out of every 126 tests since January fell into one of those three categories and could not be processed.

In those cases, patients are generally asked to re-test, but when it comes to youth sports, parents say that delay could have serious implications.

Did Contamination Cause the Testing Delays?

When we asked the state what caused last week’s delays, CDPH gave us a copy of this letter signed by the PerkinElmer lab director Adam Rosendorff, formerly the lab director of disgraced biotech company Theranos.

The letter, which was allegedly sent to CDPH clients, claims “water checks” and “routine maintenance” would delay test results.

“Really, you had kids not play because you were doing your maintenance?” Peterson questioned.

However, CBS13 has now obtained internal emails sent by top management, discussing “the contamination issue last week” that “resulted in a halt to production.”

“If there was contamination then everybody should know that there was contamination,” Peterson stressed.

CDPH refused to comment on a possible contamination issue; it’s not clear if the state was aware before we asked them.

When CBS13 asked PerkinElmer if it denied that the contamination issue caused the delayed results, the lab would only say:

“The VBL takes the integrity of our results very seriously, including the potential for false-positive results.

As a result, cleaning procedures are performed regularly in all laboratory areas according to our laboratory protocols.”

“Now I’m even more leery…are those positives positive?” Peterson questioned.

She’s not the only one wondering if the “positive” players were actually positive. Parents we spoke with point out that false-positive players can send entire classrooms into quarantine.

“There’s absolutely the ripple effect,” said Watts.

Now they’re calling on the state to provide answers and accountability.

“I feel like we’re being lied to,” said Peterson.

“The hardest part is there’s really no recourse,” said Crossen.

“There is no penalty for this,” said Venneri.

“The bottom line is this could all have been avoided,” said Watts. “If we have to be testing, let’s have it be reliable.”

**EDITORS NOTE: Tina Watts, who was interviewed for this story, is not related to CBS13 Reporter Julie Watts.

 

FOLLOW OUR CONTINUING COVERAGE:

CBS13 Investigates Problems at California’s COVID Testing Lab

 

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ALSO READ: Questionable COVID Results – More Concerning Whistleblower Allegations From State COVID Lab

ALSO READ: Regulators Find ‘Significant Deficiencies’ At CA COVID Testing Lab – Whistleblowers Respond

ALSO READ: ‘Inconclusive’ Results Should Be ‘Reported as Positive’ – State COVID Test Not FDA Authorized

ALSO READ: Same COVID Test, Different Results: FDA Looking Into State Lab ‘Test Result Concerns’

ALSO READ: CBS13 Investigates: Should Rapid Test Be Used To Test School Athletes?

ALSO READ: Delayed School COVID Results, Canceled Games and Contamination Concerns 

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Julie Watts