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LA County’s laboratory in Downey to get $33 million expansion, upgrade

It’s been a best kept secret but whenever the the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health needs a lab test performed it relies on the the department’s laboratory in Downey, in southeast LA County.

But over time, the scientists and technicians at the Downey lab have been using trailers and working in cramped quarters for years, said Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn.

That’s why Hahn, with full support from the entire Board of Supervisors, led the vote on Tuesday,. Jan. 10, to spend more than $33 million to renovate and expand the laboratory run by the county DPH.

“We have one of the leading public health laboratories in the nation right here in LA County, but the team at the Downey Lab have outgrown their facilities,” said Hahn, whose district includes Downey. “This renovation and this new building will strengthen our ability as a County to respond to public health emergencies quickly and more effectively.”

In the past 10 years, the lab has seen a dramatic increase in test volume, which now reaches more than 500,000 tests per year. Hahn said the lab has simply outgrown its facilities. Workspaces are cramped and storage is depleted, she said.

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The expansion project will consist of a new, stand-alone, 18,000-square-foot two-story building addition as well as the addition of 6,000 square feet of warehouse space to the existing building.

The lab has processed tests for COVID-19 and the expansion will allow for the sequencing of COVID variants. The lab also tests the ocean water for contaminants, among other tests for infectious pathogens and emerging diseases.

“These improvements will help us to better protect the health of all county residents by increasing our capacity to identify the presence of diseases using the latest state-of-the-art molecular testing, which includes genetic sequencing. This new lab capacity will contribute significantly to our ability to understand the frequency, spread, and control of diseases in Los Angeles County,” wrote Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County DPH, in a prepared statement.

The project is funded by a grant from the county by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hahn reported. The Downey laboratory was one of seven public health laboratories to receive federal funding.

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