LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A Temple City-based COVID-19 testing firm that contracts with Los Angeles County vehemently denied allegations Tuesday by Sheriff Alex Villanueva that the company shares patient DNA data with the Chinese government, a concern that prompted the sheriff to announce his department will no longer use the county's chosen testing provider.
"Fulgent is an American company, and its founder, board of directors and leadership team is made up of United States citizens," Fulgent Genetics Chief Commercial Officer Brandon Perthuis said in a statement Tuesday. "Fulgent Genetics operates privately and independently in the People's Republic of China and does not share personal data of any kind with the Chinese government."
Villanueva sent a letter to the county Board of Supervisors on Monday saying he took part in an FBI briefing on Friday in which federal authorities warned of "serious risks associated with allowing Fulgent to conduct COVID-19 testing of county employees." The sheriff said he was "shocked" to learn of Fulgent's ties with China and was "deeply concerned" about the county's failure to discover such ties before contracting with the company to conduct testing of employees.
"Entering into a no-bid contract with Fulgent Genetics and allowing them to have 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," Villanueva wrote in the letter. "Many personnel have long suspected this information was being used in an unnecessary manner to due a rushed mandate that we now know will have long-term unintended consequences that will not be fully known for some time."
Villanueva has been a vocal opponent of the county's employee vaccine mandate, and has said he will not enforce it in his department. He has said he is not opposed to the vaccine, only to the mandate.
The sheriff wrote that concerns about Fulgent's ties to China were serious enough for the FBI to hold "an emergency briefing to disclose their concerns." He says Fulgent's own website states that genetic information it collects can be used in future Fulgent studies.
In his statement Tuesday, Perthuis insisted the company "does not collect or use DNA data in connection with COVID-19 testing, and we are required to maintain the privacy and security of health information in accordance with HIPAA and other applicable privacy laws."
According to his statement, "no personal DNA data is isolated or sequenced" in PCR testing, which "solely detects genetic material (RNA) of the virus within an individual." Perthuis also said all samples are incinerated after 48 hours.
He said the company explained all of those privacy matters to county officials in October, including representatives of the sheriff's department.
"These representatives from the LA County sheriff's office were made aware that Fulgent does not collect any personal DNA in connection with COVID testing and disregarded all of Fulgent's valid points from this conversation in writing this letter to the L.A. Board of Supervisors," Perthuis said.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn told KNX Newsradio Villanueva's letter is another distraction tactic by the sheriff in his effort to thwart the county's vaccine mandate for employees, including sheriff's deputies.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was invited to the FBI briefing by text, but she could not attend because she was out of town for Thanksgiving.
"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," she told The Times.
The county's contract with Fulgent prohibits the disclosure of data without the county's written permission and requires the company store and process data in the continental United States, according to a county statement.
A number of federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, contract with Fulgent, which is certified with the Food and Drug Administration, accredited by the College of American Pathologists and licensed by the California Department of Public Health, according to the county's statement.
"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," the county statement said.