Virus Outbreak Texas Antibody Testing

Julie Janke, a medical technologist at Principle Health Systems and SynerGene Laboratory, helps sort samples for different tests in April 2020 in Houston. Principle Laboratory handles about 2,000 COVID-19 tests per week for Denton County Public Health.

In response to skyrocketing demand for COVID-19 testing, Denton County commissioners will likely approve a bidding exemption Tuesday to keep up an ongoing testing service agreement with a Houston provider.

For testing, Denton County Public Health has an agreement in place with Houston-based Concord Life Sciences, which is doing business as Principle Laboratory. The contract was authorized in early September, laying out a cost of $85 per test.

Bidding exemptions come into play because of the county’s ongoing coronavirus disaster declaration, which allows officials to skirt standard purchasing procedures if they can justify speed or other factors being a higher priority. Since the start of the pandemic, millions of dollars have been spent using the exceptions in some form.

Because the county is exclusively using federal relief funds for its pandemic efforts, it has to abide by federal purchasing guidelines. Those guidelines “encourage” purchasing departments to get multiple quotes for any products or services costing between $10,000 and $250,000. Over that amount, the competitive bidding process is required, which can take over a month to conduct.

County officials made exceptions for multiple testing arrangements, including the agreement with Principle Laboratory. But according to county documents, it now needs an additional exemption because testing expenditures are nearing the $250,000 mark. A memo from purchasing director Scott Arledge states DCPH is currently providing about 2,000 tests per week at $85 each, for a recurring total of $170,000.

“The current purchase order has an exigency letter in place, however the current spend is nearing $250,000 and the County expects to exceed that amount due to the surge of COVID cases and the public demand for testing,” Arledge wrote.

An exigency letter is a formal memo written up by officials to justify why any bidding exemptions should be applied to a purchase. While the testing agreement already had a letter from September, a new one was drafted Jan. 13, stating it will “fill the gap” while the purchasing department works to go out for a bid in the coming months.

Arledge’s memo states the ultimate contract amount is not yet known, due to the number of tests that will be required.

“It is in the County’s best interest to continue services with the current supplier to ensure availability of testing for the public,” Arledge said.

According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, COVID testing demand continues to climb to new all-time highs for both the rapid and molecular versions. Test positivity, however, has begun to decline over the past few days. DCPH Director Matt Richardson will likely address those statistics and local virus data at Tuesday’s meeting.

Recommended for you

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!