In a letter to the supervisory board, Villanueva said the FBI contacted him last week and held a briefing the day after Thanksgiving to relay “the serious risks associated with allowing Fulgent to perform COVID-19 testing. From county employees.
Villanueva claimed DNA data obtained through testing “is not guaranteed to be safe and protected from foreign governments” and said FBI officials informed him during the briefing that genetic information collected by the company would likely be shared with the Chinese government. Fulgent Genetics, he alleged in the letter, has “close ties” to Chinese technology and genomics companies, but did not specify what those ties are.
Villanueva said the county’s senior attorney and general manager also attended the recent FBI briefing at the agency’s Los Angeles office. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment when asked to confirm what was discussed at the meeting.
Fulgent’s business manager Brandon Perthuis has dismissed the sheriff’s claims as false. In a statement on Tuesday, Perthuis wrote that the US-based company was founded and is run by US citizens. He said the company does not share personal data about people tested with the Chinese government, and the company does not use samples collected during testing to sequence the unique structure of people’s DNA.
Test samples, he added, are destroyed by incineration after 48 hours.
“Personal genetic information collected by Fulgent through its genetic testing business (which, again, is NOT collected in COVID19 RT-PCR tests) is treated with the utmost confidentiality,” Perthuis wrote.
He added that Fulgent met with LA County officials last month to address their concerns.
“These representatives from the LA County Sheriff’s Office have been advised that Fulgent is not collecting any personal DNA in COVID testing and have ignored all of Fulgent’s valid points from this conversation by writing this letter to LA. [County] Supervisory Board, ”said Perthuis.
County supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she was invited to the FBI SMS briefing but was unable to attend because she was not in town for Thanksgiving.
“From what I heard about the briefing, there was no evidence, zero, that Fulgent had broken anything or had a relationship with the Chinese government that was detrimental to any information that could be present in the samples they test, ”she said.
It is not known if the FBI has met with any of the other federal, state or local agencies that use Fulgent.
“We don’t have any evidence that they’ve met anyone other than us,” Kuehl said.
The county’s contract with Fulgent prohibits disclosure of the data collected without the county’s written permission and requires the company to store and process the data in the continental United States, the county said in a statement Monday.
Federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, also contract with Fulgent, which is certified by the Food and Drug Administration, accredited by the College of American Pathologists and licensed by the California Department of Public Health, the statement said. The company is based in Temple City.
“If a credible threat is confirmed, or if the federal government takes action to revoke its certification, we will take immediate action to ensure that no employee data is misused,” the county statement said.
In March, Fulgent said it was awarded a contract from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide genomic sequencing of random positive samples.
Villanueva said in his letter that Fulgent “is not trying to cover up the fact that they will use the genetic information obtained in future studies”.
“Entering into a non-competitive contract with Fulgent Genetics and allowing them to have the DNA data obtained from the mandatory COVID-19 tests, for unknown purposes, shattered my staff’s confidence in anything. process under the mandate of the county, ”Villanueva wrote. .
County employees are required to register their immunization status with Fulgent, and those who are not vaccinated must undergo regular testing.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Professional Assn., A union with about 1,850 members, sued the registration mandate, saying its members were required to hand over confidential medical and personal information.
Villanueva said the sheriff’s department will use its own registration system and work with approved testing companies that are not associated with Fulgent.
County supervisor Janice Hahn said on Monday that Villanueva should focus on enforcing the mandate to vaccinate county employees.
“I wish the sheriff would vaccinate his deputies instead of worrying about how the unvaccinated are tested,” she said in a statement.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement Tuesday that there was no indication that employee data was compromised. She added, “If using another testing platform to upload their vaccination status would help increase the Sheriff’s Department’s vaccination rate from 53% to the County Department’s rate of 81%, then it is a possibility that I am prepared to consider. “
Villanueva has made dramatic claims that the tenure will trigger a mass exodus of employees. As of the beginning of the month, about 53% of the 16,070 sheriff’s department employees, sworn in and civilians, had received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Assn. for Los Angeles deputy sheriffs, who represent grassroots MPs, on Tuesday called on Villanueva and the supervisory board to “meet immediately to discuss issues regarding employee information security.”
“In the meantime, ALADS will work with the Sheriff and Los Angeles County to develop reasonable policies and procedures,” the statement said.