In this Sept. 10, 2020, file photo Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong,File)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) on Dec. 1 issued the following statement in response to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s claim against an American-owned company based in San Gabriel Valley’s Temple City. 

Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Advancing Justice-LA, states, “Sheriff Alex Villanueva is stoking anti-Asian sentiment with his drastic move to halt all COVID-19 testing for 18,000+ personnel in the department by an L.A. County-vetted American company based in Los Angeles.

“This action is based on no actual evidence, but rather vague and overly broad generalizations that they are associated with the Chinese government, with no specific details or examples of actual threats. 

“This is yet another type of overly broad racial profiling that has increased during the pandemic. And this follows the same path of racism within the U.S. government, which has been targeting and profiling Asian American and immigrant scientists, particularly those of Chinese descent.

“Asian Americans and their companies are being automatically treated unfairly with suspicion and hostility without any concrete proof. This perpetuates the ‘yellow peril myth’ — prevalent in the 10,000+ reported incidents of anti-Asian hate, in which Asian Americans are treated as outsiders, foreigners, and a threat to our country. 

“We demand Sheriff Villanueva to retract his dangerously racist claims until concrete proof can be cited.”

In response to Villanueva’s allegation that the company shares patient DNA data with the Chinese government, Fulgent Genetics Chief Commercial Officer Brandon Perthuis said in a statement Tuesday, “Fulgent is an American company, and its founder, board of directors and leadership team is made up of United States citizens. 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 said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors that he took part in an FBI briefing last 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 alleged 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. “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.

In his statement, 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.

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.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who was unable to attend the briefing, told The Los Angeles Times, “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.”

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 U.S., 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 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 statement said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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