California officials on Wednesday flexed the market muscle of the nation’s most populous state, announcing a deal they said would more than double the state’s coronavirus testing capacity, driving down costs significantly.
“We are moving forward in a different direction to disrupt the market,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “We’re advancing this partnership as only California can with our purchasing power and the number of people we have.”
[Track every coronavirus case in California by county.]
Coming in addition to the more than 100,000 tests conducted across the state on average each day, the new lab and supply chain run by the diagnostics company PerkinElmer, based in Massachusetts, will allow for 150,000 more tests per day, with a required turnaround of no more than two days, allowing public health officials to move quickly to identify outbreaks.
That speed and capacity, officials said, will be critical for safely reopening schools and businesses. Mr. Newsom said that he would unveil updated reopening guidelines on Friday.
[Read about the state’s most sweeping rollback of reopening efforts, in mid-July.]
The lab will ramp up starting this fall, a time at which experts worry a second wave of coronavirus cases will coincide with flu season, creating what Mr. Newsom described as a kind of respiratory “twindemic.”
He said the deal with PerkinElmer would allow health care workers in California to test simultaneously for the flu and the coronavirus at no additional cost.
The announcement comes not long after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly revised its testing guidelines to exclude people who don’t have symptoms of Covid-19, even if they have been exposed.
Public health experts, who attribute much of the virus’s spread to people who are infected but not symptomatic, called the guideline change alarming and dangerous.
California was the first state to recommend tests for some people without symptoms, and officials have been vocal about the need for widespread testing — particularly in populations that have been disproportionately affected by the virus, such as Latino Californians working in essential jobs.
[Read about why some experts have said focusing care on workers in Central Valley was overdue.]
But in mid-July, the state had to adjust its testing guidelines to be stricter, as the state contended with soaring cases and a national shortage of testing supplies.
On Wednesday, Mr. Newsom roundly rejected the C.D.C. guidelines and positioned the new testing program as a kind of response to insufficient help from the federal government.
“This is exactly what the federal government should be doing,” he said. “If you had seen the federal government doing this, it would’ve saved taxpayers billions of dollars.”
[Is California doing enough testing? Here’s what to look for.]
State officials said the average cost of a coronavirus test currently ranges from $150 to $200. Once the new partnership is at full capacity, each test will cost as little as $31, though the higher figure also included things like staff protective gear, while The Sacramento Bee reported the lower price does not.
Testing availability has varied widely across the country, and waits for results have stretched into weeks in some cases, making it impossible to warn contacts in time to contain the spread.
(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.)
Now, a brief update on the wildfires
Mr. Newsom on Wednesday once again underscored the historic scale of the wildfires this year.
“If you don’t believe in climate change, please come to the state of California,” he said. “We will educate you.”
[Read more about why prescribed burns are a critical tool for fighting destructive wildfires.]
In this latest round of blazes, he said, more than 15,000 firefighters were battling fires that have burned 1.3 million acres, with the weather continuing to be a challenge. Over the past day, 423 more lightning strikes sparked 50 new fires — though firefighters were able to suppress all of them.
Seven deaths have been linked to the fires, though the governor warned that more may be discovered as neighborhoods reopened. Similarly, the number of homes and buildings that have been destroyed, currently 1,690, was expected to increase significantly once officials and residents could better survey the damage.
[Track the wildfires burning in California with The Times’s map.]
“2020 can go to hell.” In Lake Berryessa, residents have watched a pandemic and now fires ravage their town. [The New York Times]
New evacuations were ordered in Yolo County as the L.N.U. Lightning Complex Fire continued to burn. [The Sacramento Bee]
State lawmakers have proposed last-minute legislation that would add a fee — less than a dollar per month — to utility bills to help fight wildfires. [CalMatters]
A Big Sur sanctuary for California condors was destroyed by fire. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Here’s what else to know today
As crucial deadlines loom, state lawmakers are working on only a short-term solution to the state’s eviction crisis. Nobody’s happy about it. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
First the Milwaukee Bucks said they wouldn’t play in a playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wis. Then other athletes in the N.B.A., the W.N.B.A., Major League Baseball and other leagues said they wouldn’t play either. [The New York Times]
Follow the latest updates on protests here. [The New York Times]
A sailor is being investigated for arson in a July fire that engulfed a warship in San Diego and took four days to extinguish. The Pentagon declined to answer questions about the investigation. [The New York Times]
It’s hot and dry. You’ll want to plant some succulents. And if you’re one step ahead of me on that, here are some tips for not killing them. [The New York Times]
And Finally …
As we hurtle toward the election, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the mechanics of casting a ballot during a pandemic.
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers was the headliner in a group of athletes who recently started a multimillion-dollar effort to recruit more and younger poll workers in Black electoral districts; many poll workers are older and interacting with so many people would most likely put some at risk of getting sick with Covid-19.
Mr. James also partnered with the Dodgers to make Dodger Stadium a polling site.
California state officials have pushed hard to make voting by mail very easy.
But recently, concerns about the United States Postal Service have raised alarms about whether a ballot dropped in a mailbox will make it to its destination.
So — although the postmaster general said he’d suspend cost-cutting measures until after the election following an outcry — California election officials created this mail-in ballot tracker aimed at easing voters’ minds. It will tell you when your ballot has been mailed, received and counted, the site says.
And once again, if you need to make sure you’re registered to vote, you can do that here.
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.