covid-19 /

LA County Sheriff Refuses to Use COVID Tests from Company with ‘Strong Ties’ to Chinese Communist Party

‘DNA obtained is not guaranteed to be safe and secure from foreign governments,’ Sheriff Villanueva said

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva will not allow COVID-19 tests from Fulgent Genetics Corporation to be used in his department. 

“Entering into a no-bid contract with Fulgent Genetics and allowing them to have the DNA data obtained from mandatory COVID-19 testing, for unknown purposes, has shattered all confidence my personnel have in this entire process under the County mandate,” he wrote in a Nov. 29 letter to the LA Board of Supervisors. 

Villanueva said the FBI contacted him on Nov. 24 to inform him that the Board of Supervisors should be briefed about “very concerning information” regarding Fulgent’s testing of county employees. 

At an official briefing on Nov. 26, Villanueva and several other county officials were told that “DNA obtained is not guaranteed to be safe and secure from foreign governments and ‘will likely be shared with the Republic of China.’”

“I was shocked to learn Fulgent had strong ties with BGI, WuXi, and Huawei Technology, all of which are linked to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) State Council and are under the control of the PRC,” he wrote, citing a statement on the company’s website permitting clinical information to be used “in de-identified studies at Fulgent and for publication.” 

Villanueva went on to mention that the 2017 China Cybersecurity Law makes it legal for the PRC to seize data stored within China. He also cited a recent New York Times article alleging that the Chinese government and companies are engaged in an effort to “develop the world’s largest bio-database.” 

“I am deeply concerned as to the vetting process which either failed to discover this, or discovered it, but chose to ignore it,” Villanueva said. “A simple internet search would have uncovered all the above facts.” 

County supervisor Sheila Kuehl told the LA Times she was invited to the Nov. 26 briefing, but could not attend because she was out of town for the holiday. 

“From what I heard about the briefing, there was no evidence at all, zero, that Fulgent had breached anything or had any relationship with the Chinese government that was harmful to the information that might be present in the samples that they’re testing,” Kuehl said.

In response to Villanueva’s letter, county supervisor Janice Hahn told Hews Media Group, “I wish the Sheriff would get his deputies vaccinated instead of worrying about how the unvaccinated get tested.” 

On Oct. 19, the sheriff reached out to the county’s Department of Human Resources’ liaison of Fulgent to find out if LA first responders were being ordered to turn over personal and genetic data to the China-linked company or face firing. 

Villanueva asked, “How can one provide informed consent when participation is mandatory, under penalty of discipline?” 

He did not receive a response. 

Villanueva closed his Nov. 29 letter by urging the board of supervisors to re-assess the risk posed to LA County and inform collective bargaining units of this new information. The sheriff said his department will continue to work with “properly vetted testing companies,” so long as they have no association with Fulgent. 

The county released the following statement on Nov. 29: 

“Los Angeles County’s contract for employee COVID-19 testing prohibits any disclosure of data collected without the County’s express written permission, and requires the company to store and process County data/information only within the continental United States.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to safeguarding our employees’ testing data, the County continually assesses any credible concerns that may emerge, in consultation with our partners in the federal government, to ensure that the terms of our testing contract are stringently followed. If a credible threat is confirmed, or if the federal government takes any steps to rescind its certification, we will take immediate action to ensure no employee data is misused.”

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