Orange County COVID-Testing Lab a Step Ahead

September 24, 2020 Updated: September 24, 2020

A lab in Tustin, Calif., is processing COVID-19 tests within 24 hours, a quicker turnaround than many.

Alex Mohamed, vice president of sales and marketing for EqualTox Laboratory, told The Epoch Times his lab is similar to other labs, “We just don’t have hundreds and thousands of clients that we have to process every day.”

EqualTox puts a cap on the number of tests it will do daily, at 2,400. On the other hand, said Mohamed, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp—the major players in COVID-19 testing—don’t have caps.

EqualTox also made some adaptations to its equipment. It can now process about 40 nasal swab tests an hour. Mohamed said other labs only test about 35 per hour.

Epoch Times Photo
Alex Mohamed, vice president of sales and marketing for EqualTox, stands in the EqualTox reception area in Tustin, Calif., on Sept. 3, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
A sample chamber is inserted into a machine at EqualTox Laboratory with the ability to produce hundreds of COVID-19 test results in less than 24-hours, in Tustin, Calif., on Sept. 3, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The lab operates 24/7 and promises clients results within 36 hours, giving the staff “extra cushioning in case they need it.” But turnaround is generally less than 24 hours.

Orange County contracted the lab in April to provide mobile testing to sanitation workers and for testing in the county’s jails and homeless shelters.

The contract ended shortly thereafter, and Mohamed said he has tried to get another contract with the county but hasn’t been able to. He said if the county were to contract his lab and other small labs that can process results quickly, officials wouldn’t have as much of a lag in reporting.

He reports test results directly to the state’s California Reportable Disease Information Exchange (CalREDIE) system.

Dr. Tamara Jones, a division manager at the Orange County Health Care Agency, told The Epoch Times that “capacity to provide test results in a timely manner is a criteria that would be considered,” in forming a contract for testing. “However, at this time, our current agreements are meeting the testing needs.”

“Should there be additional needs identified, … [the Health Care Agency] would consider additional agreements,” she added.

Quest Diagnostics—which does testing for the county and has federal contracts with a total committed value of $47.4 million—told The Epoch Times test volume has declined across the nation in the past month or so.

Mohamed said EqualTox has also had fewer clients, but he expects testing to pick back up during the winter if there’s a second wave.

Epoch Times Photo
EqualTox lab workers process COVID-19 tests in Tustin, Calif., on Sept. 3, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
EqualTox lab workers process COVID-19 tests in Tustin, Calif., on Sept. 3, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, EqualTox specialized in drug testing and urine analysis. It had a relationship with star athletes for this kind of testing, and has tested athletes for COVID-19, though Mohamed didn’t drop any names.

Mohamed recalled how, in early January, he was trying to put through his usual order of toxicology cups from his vendor in China, but it became clear that big changes were afoot.

“We had called them to reorder our quarterly shipment, and came to find out they’re not even manufacturing—they had shut down their entire plant,” Mohamed said.

“And so, we found out that they had shut everything down and they were just producing COVID testing supplies; at the time, they were supplying Spain and Italy,” he said.

Mohamed said he placed an order for COVID-19 testing kits early and sent them out to dozens of hospitals across the county. And then he ended up getting into COVID-19 testing full-force.