Why does California keep tripping over China whenever there’s a sketchy COVID problem?
We may not have the answer yet, but at least we’re peeling back the layers of the mysterious Chinese COVID lab in Reedley, California, that a code enforcement officer discovered.
The Globe spoke with Reedley Code Enforcement Officer Jessalyn Harper, and it was fruitful.
The original laboratory was in Fresno and was operated by Universal Meditech, Inc., which received a business license from the State of California on March 20, 2019 — exactly one year to the day before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state of emergency order that shut down the entire state because of the COVID-19 virus.
On August 26, 2020, there was an electrical fire at the warehouse facility of Universal Meditech, Inc., Fresno at Fortune Avenue and Northpoint Drive, ABC30 reported.
Universal Meditech operated a lab in the warehouse, but due to the failure of the fire and water sprinkler, they recently learned that they are about to be evicted and face bankruptcy. Prestige Biotech then seemingly took over and hastily moved everything in October 2022 to the Reedley warehouse for storage, re-leased by a cabinet and countertop business called Alliance. There was also a recycling business on the property.
I asked who was in charge of the move from the Fresno warehouse to the Reedley warehouse. Officer Harper said it was difficult to determine this with several people identifying themselves as being associated with Prestige Biotech, but only as friends and doing the owner a favor.
Ms. Harper said she received the abatement order, which covers all abandoned items at the I Street warehouse. She said the registered owner of the property is AY-NC-LP and the official tenant of the property is Prestige Biotech, Inc. The property consists of a 1.73 acre lot with an industrial warehouse.
Like MidValley Times reported last week, the building has been illegally operated since October 2022 by Wang Zhaolin of Prestige Biotech, and the lab has been used to manufacture COVID-19 tests and pregnancy tests. The early report said mice were genetically engineered to catch and transmit COVID-19 — to what end is troubling.
“From May 2 to 4, the CDC’s Select Agents and Toxins Unit inspected 850 I Street. Court documents confirm that the CDC found potentially infectious agents at the location. These include both bacterial and viral agents, including: chlamydia, E. Coli, strep pneumonia, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 5, and rubella. The CDC also found samples of malaria.
Harper said the property was used to store various unknown chemicals, so the City of Reedley involved the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”), and the Fresno County Department of Public Health in the investigation of the property.
The story gets sticky when Officer Harper makes numerous attempts to contact the owner of Prestige Biotech, Inc.
Owner Xiuqin Yao told Harper in an email that she lives in China and can only communicate via email. “We tried to get her on the phone,” Harper said, because while most of the property was components — machinery, furniture, freezers, etc. – there were nearly 1,000 live mice that needed daily care. “And then she brought in a consultant, but we still haven’t been able to determine whether Prestige Biolabs or Universal Meditech owns the mice.”
“We’ve gone through three different company representatives — they leave and a new person comes in, and we start all over again.” She said no one person was introduced as running the business. “A few showed up, and then some claimed to be friends of the owner.”
“That’s why we ended up moving forward with a reduction.” She said it was obvious when they entered the warehouse, “they packed up and moved in a hurry — it was accidental,” according to Officer Harper. And the live mice were in the abandoned warehouse and living in inhumane conditions, according to code enforcement by the veterinarian Reedley hired to evaluate them. Mice were eventually euthanized.
“On March 17, 2023, I received an email from Xiuquin Yao who identified himself as the president of Prestige Biotech, Inc.,” Officer Harper said. She received an appeal. “I exchanged emails with Yao from March 19 to March 27, 2023 and asked if they could provide licenses or certificates allowing the experiments and breeding of these mice. They have never provided any certifications or licenses from any state or federal agency to authorize the activities conducted on the property. I informed them that the mice were kept in inadequate conditions in overcrowded cages and that there was a lack of food and water for the mice. Yao did not give any plan regarding the care plan for the mice or where the mice will be moved since the building was red-tagged after the city’s inspection.”
Harper said nothing was properly labeled nor transferred properly from the old warehouse—i.e. they have moved without the necessary permits. Officer Harper learned that generally moving chemicals and biologicals requires a permit from the US Department of Transportation as well as county environmental health permits.
I asked what charges – criminal or civil – they were looking for against Prestige Biotech and/or Universal Meditech when Constable Harper said she had just learned of an interesting loophole – privately funded research and development labs are not required to register with the government. If they were operating with federal or state grants, they would be required to obtain all kinds of permits.
Someone associated with Universal Meditech, Inc. and/or Prestige Biotech, Inc., either discovered the legal loophole or someone in the state helped them with the legality. “This is unprecedented,” Officer Harper said. “We’ve never broken into a bio lab in the United States before.”
“They did their homework to figure out how to move out of Fresno without licenses,” she added.
And apparently mice are also a loophole. “They’re the only animal that’s not protected by the USDA — they’re not subject to regulations,” Officer Harper said. “Rats are regulated, but mice are not.”
At that point, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control gave up and the Federal EPA took over the chemicals in the abandoned lab.
Officer Harper said the California Department of Public Health stepped in and addressed the biological materials. Medical devices must be destroyed, she said, if the owner is unwilling to cooperate.
The Globe will have more reporting on the mysterious Chinese COVID lab in Reedley.
Here is the statement of Jesalyn Harper, Reedley Code Enforcement, in the abatement order application. Be sure to scroll to the attached exhibits.