High coronavirus positive case rate reveals flaws in Florida Department of Health report

Hospitals dispute DOH account that labs aren't reporting negative results

ORLANDO, Fla. – For at least the past 11 days, the Florida Department of Health coronavirus report shows hundreds of laboratories are reporting 98 to 100% of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive and according to the DOH those statistics are because some private labs aren’t reporting their negative results at all.

The daily coronavirus report produced by the Florida Department of Health lists all coronavirus tests and their outcomes --- positive, negative or inconclusive-- from private labs around the state and those outsourced to facilities outside Florida. A look back at the daily coronavirus report shows that as far back as July 4 labs across the state have reported positive cases above 98%.

While some of those high statistics can be explained by the number of tests run, for example one out of one test, others cannot. Some of the private laboratories are not reporting any negative tests but hundreds of positive COVID-19 tests.

Fox 35 was the first to report the high percentages on the report.

When asked about the 98 to 100% positivity rates on the report, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said the reason was due to some “smaller, private labs” not reporting negative test results to the state.

“All COVID-19 cases are confirmed through diagnostic and antigen testing and then reported to the state by the labs performing the testing. Private and public laboratories are required to report positive and negative test results to the state immediately,” a July 14 email from the DOH said. “In recent days, the Florida Department of Health noticed that some smaller, private labs weren’t reporting negative test result data to the state. The Department immediately began working with those labs to ensure that all results were being reported in order to provide comprehensive and transparent data.”

The DOH spokesperson said the state “will continue educating these labs on proper protocol for reporting COVID-19 test results.”

On July 4, more than 400 labs reported 100% positive cases, by July 15 more than 475 were showing 100% COVID-19 positive results, according to the state numbers.

However, the state numbers don’t just show only positive tests for smaller labs but also larger hospital-affiliated facilities. Lee Memorial Hospital and NCH Healthcare System in Southwest Florida, seven AdventHealth Centra Care locations around Central Florida and several Veterans Affairs medical centers across the state are also reporting only positive cases, according to the state report.

News 6 reached out to the facilities across Central Florida with high positivity rates in the state report.

A spokesperson with Advent Health said they were told by FDOH to only report positive cases. The hospital said it would make any changes to their reporting if requested by the state.

The FDOH did not return News 6's messages asking how labs are required to report their results.

AdventHealth said CentraCare rapid tests were coming back with a 15% positivity rate, not 100% like the state report shows.

Health First, a Brevard County health care provider, has seven labs with only positive test results, per the state numbers. A spokesperson for Health First disputed the DOH’s account saying the hospital system is reporting all of its test results to the state every day.

“Health First reports all of its COVID-19 testing numbers to the Agency for Health Care Administration’s (AHCA) Emergency Status System database every day. This includes positive, negative and total tests administered. As has been reported by other hospitals recently, Health First is also finding the numbers we have reported into the system are not reflective of—or consistent with—those that are currently publicly reported. Our actual positivity rates are significantly lower than the data reflected on the AHCA website. We have asked for clarification and are awaiting the agency’s response,” a Health First spokesperson said in an email.

According to Health First, the healthcare system has a 7.1% rate of positive cases.

Orlando Health responded sharing its testing numbers for all 12 of its laboratories. The hospital chains said its laboratories across 12 facilities are reporting an average of 9.4% positive tests.

A review of the state report found that the hospital’s testing data shared with News 6 does not match for St. Cloud Hospital. The state report shows St. Cloud Hospital has 20 positive cases and zero negative. The numbers released by Orlando Health shows the exact opposite.

While some Orlando Health facilities have 100% positive cases, according to the state and Orlando Health numbers, it’s because only a few tests have been conducted at those facilities. For example Arnold Palmer Hospital Laboratory has one positive case out of one test, showing 100% positive cases but the Arnold Palmer Medical Center Clinical Lab has 4,164 negative tests and 84 positive, showing 2% of its tests came back positive.

The CEO of Nona Scientific Laboratory, another private lab running coroanvirus tests that showed only positive cases on the state report, said the DOH report was incorrect due to a communication errors.

“All of our testing data, including negatives, have been reported to the DOH, there were communication errors that have been resolved and our positivity rate is approximately 6.5%,” Nona Scientific Lab CEO Mike Palmer said in an email.

Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris said the labs could be reporting the positive and negative cases on different days as they try to get test results back as quickly as possible.

“All labs are reporting numbers. Some of the (labs) are obviously reporting positives very, very quickly and then they put the negatives in the next day so what does that mean? That means for that one day it shows 100%, but the next day it may show 0.5% because they’ve got to catch up,” Harris said.

More than 2.7 million COVID-19 tests have been administered in Florida since March and as the demand for testing increases with the rising number of virus cases laboratories have struggled to keep up.

“As the testing increases unfortunately staffing has not increased at each lab so the priority is always going to be positive cases,” Harris said.

Later on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the discrepancies in the numbers between what labs say they are reporting and what the state shows.

Prior to the coronavirus, hospitals and laboratories were required to report illnesses under Florida law. DeSantis said during the pandemic, the state asked labs to also report negatives.

“We then said, I think (in) one of my executive orders, report the negatives too,” DeSantis said. “A number of labs who were just simply doing kind of what the default is, which is sending the positives only without sending the negatives and so I don’t think they were trying to be underhanded, those labs, I think that’s kind of what they were doing before this started.”

The governor said all laboratories will start reporting negatives as well, even though multiple laboratories and hospitals told News 6 they have been reporting those numbers to the state.

The data released daily from the Florida Department of Health remains the only way to monitor the outbreak in Florida as all county health departments report to the state.