‘Game Changer’ in California Coronavirus Testing to Double Capacity and Speed Up Results

31 Aug

by Ana B. Ibarra August 26, 2020 CALMATTERS

A nursing student does patient check-in and hands out requisition forms allowing patients to get their COVID-19 test results online at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

In summary

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new deal today with a diagnostics company that he says will add 150,000 more tests a day, with results back in 24 to 48 hours.

Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced that the state will soon more than double its coronavirus testing capacity, a move that at least one legislator described as a “game changer” in the state’s pandemic response.

The state will partner with the Massachusetts-based diagnostics company PerkinElmer, which will allow the state to conduct and process an additional 150,000 tests a day with expedited test results in 24 to 48 hours. 

“We have provisions in the contract to guarantee that turnaround time,” Newsom said. 

At 150,000 tests a day, the new contract would cut down the per-test cost from the current $150-$200 to $30.

Currently, the state is processing just slightly over 100,000 tests per day with an average turnaround time of five to seven days. By some estimates, like those by scientists at the Harvard Global Health Institute, California should currently be doing upward of 220,000 tests a day to truly mitigate spread of the virus— and significantly more to suppress it.

“Each and every day is a precious day in terms of test results,” Newsom said. The longer people wait, those test results are almost useless in terms of helping stop the spread, he said.  Newsom said the state will aim to get a new laboratory facility running by Nov. 1, just in time for the peak of flu season and a possible second wave of coronavirus, when more people are likely to seek out testing. 

Extra $300 weekly unemployment benefit approved for California, but timetable is uncertain

By David Lightman Sacramento Bee:  August 22, 2020

If you need a state unemployment expert to return your call, it’s going to take four to six weeks, the director of California’s Employment Development Department told an Assembly subcommittee July 30, 2020. By California State Assembly

California will be able to pay millions of jobless residents an extra $300 a week, the state’s unemployment agency said Saturday, but there’s no estimate of when people will see that money.

The state’s Employment Development Department said its application for funding the program has been approved by the federal government. When the $300 a week is added to state benefits, it will nearly double the average California claimant’s weekly unemployment check.

Larry Kudlow, a White House senior economic adviser, said this week that overall, the money should be in bank accounts “in the next week or two.”

The US Government’s Lost Wage Assistance Program, one of the recently approved Executive Actions taken by President Trump, is on top of regular unemployment benefits. EDD announced Friday Aug. 28 that the first payments in CA will be available the week of Sept. 7, 2020.

There will be two phases of the EDD rollout.  First will be claimants who previously provided information that they were unemployed due to COVID-19, and have already received regular UI benefits during the period of July 26 to Aug. 15. The payments mean that an person receiving the average UI benefit of $287 a week will receive $587.  Persons must receive a benefit of at least $100 a week to participate in the added payment. The second phase will be for applicants who did not indicate on their original application that they were out of work due to COVID-19. Approximately 1.13 million Californians applied for benefits. EDD is so backlogged by computer and staffing problems that it has only be able to process 239,000 claims by Aug. 28.

WCIRB Submits 2021 Rate Recommendation

The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau on Wednesday formally recommended that the California Department of Insurance increase the advisory pure premium rate by an average of 2.6% for policies incepting on or after Jan. 1.

If approved, it would be the first rate increase since November 2014, when the state adopted a rate of $2.74 per $100 of payroll. Since then, savings from the reforms in Senate Bill 863 and subsequent fraud-fighting efforts drove a series of annual and midyear rate filings that lowered the advisory rate by more than 44% to $1.52 for policies incepting in 2020.

Rates likely would have continued to fall but for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Absent the impact of COVID-19 claims on 2021 policies, the filing reflects a modest decrease (1.3%) in advisory pure premium rates,” the WCIRB said in a statement. “In addition to projecting the cost of COVID-19 claims to be incurred on 2021 policies, the filing also reflects the impact of the pandemic-related economic slowdown on future wage growth, claim frequency and claim severity.”

Materials presented to the WCIRB’s Governing Committee during an Aug. 12 meeting show the indicated rate would have been $1.50 per $100 of payroll if projections for COVID-19 were excluded.

Although the indicated rate is higher than the last approved rate, it would still be 13.3% lower than the industry average charged rate of $1.80 per $100 of payroll as of July 1.

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