Irvine City Council members unanimously voted to pull out of a contract with U.S. Health Fairs when the two parties failed to reach an agreement for the establishment of drive-up COVID-19 testing during their May 26 meeting.
The council was planning on implementing antibody tests (PCR) for drive-through testing. However, upon Mayor Christina Shea’s learning that the tests were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), she called for a revote the day after this testing was approved by the Council.
U.S. Health Fairs Medical Director Dr. Camellia Babaie had repeatedly noted that no antibody tests intended for drive-through administration were approved by the FDA during the May 12 council meeting.
According to Babaie, the tests were allowed to be distributed under FDA guidelines upon receiving emergency use authorization, for which the nonprofit was waiting.
Negotiations dissolved after city staff gathered on May 23 to confirm the specifics of the contract.
“Ultimately, we were unable to agree upon terms,” Police Chief Mike Hamel told the Voice of OC. “We had questions about who was going to be collecting specimens from the residents, and we had questions over how many days it would take to receive results.”
Hamel also said that the antibody testing that the U.S. Health Fairs offered could no longer be administered under newly approved FDA guidelines.
“Staff at this time is not recommending we sign a contract with U.S. Health Fairs,” Hamel said.
Multiple misrepresentations by U.S. Health Fairs, including confusion over the actual cost of the antibody tests, further complicated the situation.
Additionally, the U.S. Health Fairs’ plan for administering the testing continually shifted. The initial plan was for trained medical nurses to administer the tests. However, the responsibility was turned over to medical aides and then finally to self-administration.
“It was as if the deal was changing all the time and we weren’t able to rely on them,” Councilwoman Melissa Fox said in an interview with the Voice of OC.
Fox, Hamel and Shea also expressed concerns that U.S. Health Fairs was not keeping “an appropriate chain of custody” with testing samples, creating worries that the samples were at risk of getting contaminated if they were not already.
“I said we can’t move forward … We have to work with an agency that provides a top level of security and service for this testing,” Shea said in a phone call with the Voice of OC. “What we heard two weeks ago was not what we found out moving through the contractual situation.”
U.S. Health Fairs had also posted on its website that it is behind on calls to inform residents of their test results. Another post stated that a server malfunction had erased patient data.
According to U.S. Health Fairs spokesperson BC Solomon, these posts were old notifications from late April whose issues were now resolved. However, both notices were still live on their website on May 26, the day negotiations fell through.
After the contract was rejected, Shea expressed regret for previously misunderstanding the nonprofit group’s representation.
“This is disappointing, but it’s good you did your due diligence,” Shea said.
While COVID-19 testing is being offered to many Irvine residents, not all have access to it. The Irvine City Council told city staff to continue to try to find and implement a universal COVID-19 testing program for all Irvine residents.
Free testing is still available for symptomatic and asymptomatic healthcare workers, first responders, social service workers and other essential workers who have not received testing through their healthcare providers or employers.
Residents who have access to testing can make an appointment at any of the testing sites in Buena Park, Orange County, Santa Ana or San Juan Capistrano. Sites are open from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Testing is also available through the OC COVID-19 Testing Network.
UCI Health also provides testing for people with COVID-19 symptoms.
Alessandra Arif is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.