DNA Concerns Were Valid
No Mention of Specimen Destruction
by Michael Kane
After freedom of information requests, inquiries by mainstream journalists, numerous requests to public officials, and an administrative court appeal, New York City Health + Hospitals Corp. (NYC H+H) has released the contract they have with Fulgent Genetics governing in-school COVID testing. This comes as the result of efforts of the law firm Siri & Glimstad, who filed the original freedom of information request back in September of 2020, as well as the recent administrative appeal which finally brought the public document to light.
What jumps out first-and-foremost is that in the original contract there is no mention of destruction of specimens. Subsequently, NYC H+H received a letter from Fulgent’s Chief Scientific Officer, Harry Gao, dated October 7, 2020, which states that their procedure is to destroy all specimens after a COVID result is obtained. However that letter was written by Fulgent only after multiple teacher and parent complaints were lodged for over a month. The information in the Fulgent letter was never shared with TEACHERS FOR CHOICE or others seeking such information until after we were represented by an attorney on October 19, 2020.
This leaves me extremely satisfied that our attorney, Michael Sussman, sued the NYC DOE and won a court-ordered stipulation that ensures specimens collected during NYC in-school COVID testing cannot be used by anyone for anything other than obtaining a positive or negative COVID result and all specimens must be destroyed thereafter.
Having an enforceable guarantee that all specimens are destroyed is crucial.
Homeland Security is currently embarking on the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database, which will include multiple forms of biometrics—from face recognition to DNA, data from questionable sources, and highly personal data on innocent people. It will be shared with federal agencies outside of DHS as well as state and local law enforcement and foreign governments. And yet, we still know very little about it. Read Jennifer Lynch’s reporting on HART here.
Based on the original contract NYC H+H had with Fulgent Genetics, the laboratory was under no obligation to destroy any of the specimens they collected at any time. And while they currently did not have legal authorization to utilize any of those specimens, with databases like HART on the rise the future is growing less and less tolerant of the Constitution and privacy rights. Nothing was stopping Fulgent from keeping those specimens “on file” for years or decades, just waiting for a change in law or loop hole that went in their favor. If specimens that Fulgent Genetics takes from in-person COVID testing in NYC Schools ever end up in a database/catalogue/library et al. like HART, we have an enforceable stipulation where any-and-all parties involved in such transactions can be held accountable in court.
It is of interest to note that on January 8th, 2021, less than two weeks after we published our court-ordered stipulation at http://www.nyteachersforchoice.org, Credit Suisse financial analysist Erin Wilson Wright downgraded Fulgent Genetics’ stock to underperform from neutral. According to Wright, despite benefiting from COVID-related testing, the revenue spike the company experienced won’t last forever. Fulgent’s stock price collapsed more than 13%. This was all reported by Motley Fool. Now of course I don’t know if our stipulation has anything to do with Wright’s analysis or the collapsing of Fulgent’s stock price, but the timing of this certainly did catch my attention.
I have not finished fully reviewing the contract Fulgent Genetics has with NYC H+H. There are still some questions I have as I compare this contract to the one NYC H+H has with SOMOS for specimen collection on behalf of BioReference Laboratories, which has some details and specificity in it that the Fulgent contract lacks.
There is also still at least one secret contract remaining that governs the NYC in-school COVID testing program. That is the laboratory contract between NYC H+H and BioReference Laboratories. We know this contract exists as it is specifically referenced in the SOMOS specimen collection agreement. I am currently in regular communication with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ Deputy Daniel Garcia-McGuire regarding NYC H+H releasing the BioReference Laboratories contract. Those conversations are currently proceeding very well and I hope to have more information to report about them soon. Hopefully we can get NYC H+H to release this contract without filing more freedom of information requests.
The Fulgent Genetics contract(s) with NYC H+H can be downloaded here: