In the decades leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, 11 of public health labs in California closed, leaving 29 county and city public health labs.
Governor Gavin Newsom has called for "targeted testing," but that would require leaning on the only public health labs that remain for about 40 million people, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, says it's "around the same number we had in 1950 when the population was a little more than 10 million.
While public health labs can't run mass quantities of tests a day, they have the expertise to conduct close surveillance of potential disease outbreaks.
Rick Greenwood, an epidemiology and environmental health sciences adjunct professor at UCLA, says, "Doing 10,000 tests at some place with people who drive through who may not even be sick doesn't help as much as doing 20 samples when people are out in the field looking at clusters, interviewing people. It's the same test, but different in the sense of where the data goes."
Public health funding has largely been cut since the Great Recession, which is where many of these labs received their funds. Counties without public health labs are instead relying on a regional approach to testing.
Napa County was the first to close its lab in 1999 followed by Berkeley in 2003. Mendocino, Yolo and Marin Counties closed by 2013. Meanwhile, the last five years have seen the closures of Pasadena, Sutter, El Dorado, Placer, Stanislaus, and Santa Cruz County public health labs.