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Kaiser Permanente Building Massive COVID-19 Test Lab

Challenged by slow test results, Kaiser Permanente Northern California rallies to build its own lab in just 60 days. Pictured, Matt Davis, Kaiser Permanente Northern California construction manager, Regional Capital Projects Facilities Construction, walks through the 7,700 square-foot lab under construction in April.

Facing long waits for outsourced COVID-19 test results, Kaiser Permanente Northern California is building its own state-of-the-art lab in Berkeley capable of performing 10,000 tests a day.

The $14 million, 7,700 square-foot lab is currently under construction 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and should be ready for its first test June 1, said Scott Tibbetts, executive director of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Service Delivery.

Turnaround time for COVID-19 test results will be same day in many instances or the following day.

When it opens, the new lab will help Kaiser Permanente shift from testing members currently in the hospital or who are high risk, to a program that will test members on a much larger scale in order to monitor populations and put the brakes on future outbreaks. Testing on a large scale is one of six key requirements California Gov. Gavin Newsom has set to ease the stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, Kaiser Permanente has increased its in-house COVID-19 testing for hospitalized and high-risk patients from 1,000 a day to 1,500 tests a day, said Brian Missett, MD, associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group and radiation oncologist at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara. 

Dr. Missett said Kaiser Permanente saw very early on that it would have to act quickly with a scalable plan to eventually test hundreds of thousands of Northern California members for COVID-19.

“When testing originated, it was done mainly out of the public health departments, but it became very clear, very quickly that they couldn’t handle the volume,” Dr. Missett said. “We started sending tests out, but the turnaround was 10 to 14 days. You can imagine the challenge when you’ve admitted a patient to the hospital, and you don’t know whether or not they are COVID-19 positive and how important it is to find out their status more quickly.”

Crisis Speeds Construction

The new lab is under construction inside a warehouse owned by Kaiser Permanente that until a couple of weeks ago was filled with different types of equipment. The design, city approval, and construction of the project in 60 days is unprecedented in recent memory, said Tibbetts. Berkeley is well known for its long construction approval process, but city leaders jumped right in to help, he said.

The process of designing, permitting, and building would normally take a minimum of 15 months or even several years, he said.

“But we were able to secure a building permit from the city of Berkeley in 5 days,” Tibbetts said. “They have been very good partners.”

Testing on Massive Scale

Dr. Missett said when Northern California communities begin easing stay-at-home orders, Kaiser Permanente will move to a COVID-19 suppression strategy with testing on a massive scale in order to prevent further outbreaks. That’s when the capability of doing 10,000 tests a day will be imperative. 

“Right now everyone is at home, so if someone is mildly to moderately sick, they get well at home,” Dr. Missett said. “Once we start going back to work and to restaurants, we have to know who is infected, so they can be isolated and not spreading it further.”

He said testing will be available on a large scale for Kaiser Permanente members who are at risk for exposure or who are showing symptoms.

“You might get a message that says you are in an area of an outbreak, or you were at an event where there were sick people, so you should get a test,” Dr. Missett said.

Tibbetts said he is proud of his Kaiser Permanente colleagues who all pulled together to bring large scale COVID-19 testing to members.

“What really stands out for me is the innovation within Kaiser Permanente,” Tibbetts said. “The way everyone stepped up to partner and get this delivered in 60 days is pretty incredible.”

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This Post Has 67 Comments
  1. WAY to GO KP and The City of Berkeley!
    This increased capacity will help the Bay Area and perhaps even greater California. I was surprised to see how county health departments were struggling to test b/c they also had insufficient licensed staff. It appears the licensure for testing staff is also broken. Hopefully KP and other academic medical centers can re-open licensing / training curricula. (Concerned Clinical Trial Scientist)

  2. Just learned on KCRA news that Kaiser Permanente’s carpenters in Berkeley are turning out face shields at an amazing rate. Relieved to know all our front line health care workers will be even more save.

  3. I’ve been a grateful Kaiser Permanente member since 1969. Thank you for being a leading health care organization through the years. And to your staff and crews, thank you for saving so many lives and helping the rest of us THRIVE.

  4. Good work everyone. Really appreciate the effort everyone putting. Testing is need of the hour, and proud to be a member of Kaiser.

  5. As a KP member I feel kinship with the Corporation for being forward looking, for Governor Newsom for his bold, intelligent, science-based response, and for the City of Berkeley for expediting building department bureaucracies,

    Now for the cherry on the top: THE PROPERTY ITSELF is ecologically sensitive (solar etc.)

    P.S. Perhaps the vaccine will be developed the Bay Area as well.

  6. It’s staggering how little information we have about the community spread of this virus given the economic impact it is having. It would be good if you could also conduct a community test (including antibody) for all nearby members as another data point for this critical information need.

    1. Hello Mark,
      Our COVID-19 testing center is tentatively scheduled to open June 1. It is part of a statewide effort to to eventually begin testing on a massive scale.
      Unfortunately to date there have been no antibody tests developed that meet the required quality criteria to accurately interpret their results. Also, current serologic tests are not known to accurately predict immunity to COVID-19 and should not be relied upon for this purpose as this could wrongly tell a person they are protected from infection.

      1. This is great news, but I didn’t read in the article or maybe I didn’t understand clearly, when the lab is open to test more people, is it going to be available to people that are not showing symptoms as well?

        1. Hi Araceli,
          Here is the latest on Kaiser Permanente Northern California COVID-19 testing as it pertains to your question.
          We’re prepared to test patients who have symptoms of COVID-19 including:
          Cough
          Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
          Fever
          Chills or shaking with chills
          Muscle pain
          Headache
          Sore throat
          New loss of sense of smell or taste
          If you have symptoms, call our 24/7 Appointment and Advice Call Center at 866-454-8855 for guidance. If recommended, your doctor will order the test. Please don’t come to a medical center or drive-through testing site to be tested for COVID-19 infection unless referred by a doctor.
          Doug Oakley

    1. Hello Sathish,
      The tentative date for opening the new testing center is June 1. Stay tuned for updates.

  7. When will Kaiser be testing every member who wants to be tested for Covid 19! Symptoms or not!

    1. Hello George,
      Thank you for reading the story and for responding. At this moment, testing capacity is still limited. Upon the arrival of additional test analyzers by early June, we expect our testing capacity to grow dramatically.

  8. Thank you to the construction crew working 24 hours a day! Way to go to everyone involved. Thank you

  9. I am so proud to work for Kaiser Permanente and to witness the wonderful steps our organization is taking to benefit all of humanity!

  10. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to serving the community. I’m a proud Kaiser member for 23 years and employee for 12 years.

  11. I am a retired employee as well. Forty years worth, thank you to all the unions involved to get this working and thank you to the city of Berkeley! I’m a proud KP retired employee.

  12. I’ve always believed in KP. As a retiree with 29 years of service, I’ve watched the evolution and couldn’t be prouder!

    #kaisercares

  13. I would like to thank every department manager and assistants who took the time to help with the clean up of the location, for construction department who worked long hours, and for our Supply Chain manager who helped physically and led through the whole process to ensure that the area was prepared for the project. That’s what I call teamwork!

  14. Bravo from another retired Kaiser RN!!
    Huge thanks to Dr. Missett for your foresight, to the planning engineers, and Mr. Matt Davis and the construction team members who’ve worked long, hard hours to realize the vision!!
    We KP members, and current and former employees, are lucky indeed!

  15. FOREVER proud to be a member of KP workforce! I am forever honored to be a part of the group that builds amazing things like this!

  16. As a retired Kaiser Permanente ID/HIV Care Manager in Northern California, I am proud and not surprised that KP is once again leading the way to develop an excellent care model for COVID-19 testing. Henry Kaiser would have expected no less. Thank you, City of Berkeley!

  17. Amazing news to get approval so fast. So proud of you.
    These are unusual times but thank you for looking out for
    us. Keep up the good work.
    Janet Simon

  18. As a retired Kaiser RN, I am so proud of KP. I am always singing your praises. Way to go, KP, keep up the great work.

  19. That is an amazing story about the City Planning Department of Berkeley. I have never seen such an event happen in my life between builders and city planning…anywhere…anytime. Thanks for having the vision to step into the breach. Good job, Kaiser.

  20. This is why Kaiser Permanente leads the health care industry, by showing what true corporate responsibility looks, not just for our members but everyone in need! So proud to Thrive with you all.

  21. It’s no surprise that of the many health organizations, Kaiser Permanente is once again the visionary who pioneered to fill this great need. Excellent work, Kaiser!

  22. Please, please, Kaiser, come to N. Louisiana! We need YOU! This is just incredible work and the forethought that went into saving all these lives and treating the COVID-19 patients, just incredible work and initiative. You are a perfect model to all! You also have the most caring #1 Physician Group in the world. I’m not being partial, just telling the truth!

  23. It’s amazing what we can accomplish together. This makes me so proud to be a KP employee (and third generation KP member). Bravo!

  24. So so very proud to work for Kaiser Permanente for 38 years and counting. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! WOW. This is AWESOME !!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Kaiser Permanente, Thank YOU for such a great investment and ALL that you do for your members and employees. Supporting the community and giving back, along with keeping your employees informed. Allowing us to work from home to be safe and proactive during this pandemic is only one of the many reasons that I love about working for you. Proudly I share Kaiser Permanente is the BEST !!!

  26. I will echo the others, this is one of the reasons I am proud to be a KP employee. This lab will be key to our transition and reopening our state.

  27. Excellent that Kaiser is able to go above and beyond to set up a lab in such a short time. KP Thrives in many ways and am very proud to be working in Kaiser.

  28. I expect Henry J. Kaiser would be very proud of this effort, given the record time in building the SS Robert E. Peary during WWII. The can-do attitude lives on as our organization rises to the challenge.

  29. Way to go getting thru red tape. Let this be the new American normal, more efficient ways to get things done for our communities!

  30. This is so amazing that KP can marshal its resources to quickly build this key infrastructure to fight COVID-19. Hats off to everyone involved.

  31. Leadership showing the way for others in the Nation to follow!!! Great work.

  32. Thank you, Kaiser Permanente, for such a huge investment. Supporting the community and giving back along with education and being proactive during this pandemic is what I love about working for you.

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