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In the News: Coverage of Gov. Newsom's COVID-19 Testing Task Force Announcement

Reports on the initiative from the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee and San Jose Mercury News

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on April 4 announced a new task force to speed testing for the coronavirus across the state. Blue Shield of California President and CEO Paul Markovich was named co-chair along with Dr. Charity Dean, assistant director of the state Public Health Department. Here's some of the coverage of the announcement:

From the Los Angeles Times:

Public health experts have said widespread testing is crucial to the state’s efforts to accurately assess how many people are infected and where the virus is spreading. However, testing has lagged across the country. For those who have been able to be tested, backlogs in laboratories have led to delays in results, which Newsom said has been equally frustrating.

Newsom announced Saturday that he formed a task force of private and public leaders and said he is confident the group will upend testing challenges in the state.

“We are now in a position where I can confidently say it’s a new day,” Newsom said.

Newsom said the state is partnering with universities, hospitals, labs and testing companies to increase testing locations across the state, reduce backlogs and ensure there is more accurate and timely data on the number of COVID-19 cases.

From the Sacramento Bee:

Newsom announced the partnership — led by Dr. Charity Dean, assistant director of the state Department of Public Health, and Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California — will combine efforts and resources across the state in what Newsom described as a new approach to increase and “deaggregate” testing results, providing them faster to state officials and the public.

Newsom and other officials also said a new blood test by Stanford researchers, “hours” away from FDA approval, could determine who has recovered from the virus or had immunity.

Newsom said the partnership includes the work of UC Davis, UC San Diego and Stanford among other others to reduce the turnaround time for a variety of ways in which government facilities and private labs are processing tests. He said that “five to seven” new lab hubs would be created geographically to help in the effort, but said getting firm testing numbers could take “a few weeks.”

California has expanded the number of labs testing for the virus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness, to include commercial, academic and public health labs. However, the state still has a huge backlog. Nearly 127,000 tests have been conducted in the state, and only 13,000 of those are still pending, Newsom said, a stark reduction from Friday’s figure of 60,000 from the California Department of Public Health.

The labs are overwhelmed by escalating demands and hampered by shortages of test swabs, chemicals and personal protective equipment for workers collecting samples and running tests, Newsom says.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

While it has been perhaps the nation’s most aggressive state in using social distancing measures to control the spread of a disease that has now afflicted more than 13,500 Californians, the state has lagged in the number of tests conducted and the speed it has processed those tests, making it hard to get a handle on the true reach of the virus.

“The testing space has been a challenging one for us, and I own that,” Newsom said. “I have a responsibility as your governor to do better and to do more testing.”

The governor praised commercial labs for reducing the test backlog from a peak of nearly 60,000 down to 13,000. Experts had earlier said labs had been overwhelmed by the demand, with one company, Quest Diagnostics, saying in a statement Thursday it had a backlog of 115,000 tests at 12 labs nationwide. In late March the company finished switching to a higher throughput test and says it can can now process 30,000 tests a day.

California has conducted 126,700 tests, Newsom said, half the 283,612 tests done in New York state, where more than 113,700 people have tested positive. Tests have been so limited that even Californians with coronavirus symptoms have routinely been told simply to presume they have the virus and isolate at home.