The Chinese-owned medical lab in Reedley that inspectors shut down after finding COVID-19 and more than 20 other deadly viruses stored in refrigerators once operated legally in Fresno and recently has been planning to move back into a building near the airport.
Recent controversy over the mysterious operations has left plans for a Fresno return by Universal Meditech Inc. and Prestige Biotech Inc. up in the air. Officials with the city of Fresno want more information before approving occupancy in the space near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
The city said in a statement that its planning department received two proposed operational plans – in March 2022 and June – for a new location at 3900 N. Blattella Lane, just north of the airport. The building has not received final inspections from the city, nor has it issued a permit for occupancy – both needed before the test kit operation could move in, the statement said. Test kit companies can use live viruses to check that their products actually work.
City Planning Director Jennifer Clark, in a letter sent Wednesday to building owner Ford Tetra Partners, noted that conflicting information in the two operational statements raises concerns and asks for more information. “This letter is to inform you that without owner authorization, list of hazardous materials, and appropriate local, state and/or federal … material handling permits,” the city cannot evaluate the operational statement, Clark wrote. “Therefore, the change in operational statement will not be approved.”
The city also provided a timeline of Universal Meditech’s time in Fresno, starting with city approval August 2018 to occupy leased space in an industrial building at 1320 E. Fortune Ave.
The Fresno Business Journal reported in February 2019 that Universal Meditech, then a three-year-old company, was operating in Tulare before relocating to Fresno, where it was manufacturing pregnancy, ovulation and menopause tests. The company later added coronavirus test kits to its portfolio drug the pandemic.
Following a fire in the Fortune Avenue building in August 2020, the Fresno Fire Department reported that shelves and materials had burned. The fire report also noted that lab walls and electrical wiring had been put in without the proper permits from the city.
During inspections of the building in November 2022, following a two-year scaling back of inspections because of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from the city’s code enforcement and building departments were joined by Fresno County health inspectors to visit the site. At that time, United Meditech’s CEO, XiaoXiao Wang, told them of a dispute with the landlord and a court case over the lease.
“On Dec. 27, 2022, the tenant moved out and the case was closed,” the city’s information states. About three months later, the owner of the Blattella Lane building submitted paperwork that identified United Meditech as the proposed tenant.
While the company was manufacturing COVID-19 rapid tests during its first stint in Fresno, the company apparently failed to secure required authorization from the FDA to manufacture or distribute the COVID-19 tests. Universal Meditech issued at least two recalls for its rapid antigen test kits for COVID-19 marketed under the brand names Skippack Medical Lab and DiagnosUs, according to information from the FDA – one covering more than 209,000 kits in April 2022, and another in late December for more than 56,000 COVID-19 test kits.
The recalled kits were manufactured between October 2021 and December 2021 and distributed nationwide in January 2022 – time frames when the company was operating in Fresno.