Florida cuts ties with Quest for failing to report 75,000 COVID-19 tests

DOH says jump in virus positivity rate due to data dump

Florida health officials reported a jump in positive coronavirus cases Tuesday but say the increase is because of a large data dump from private laboratory Quest Diagnostics, as a result the state has severed ties with the lab.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida health officials reported a jump in positive coronavirus cases Tuesday but say the increase is because of a large data dump from private laboratory Quest Diagnostics, as a result the state has severed ties with the lab.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Quest violated Florida law when it failed to report COVID-19 results in a timely manner, including nearly 75,000 cases dating as far back as April.

“Most of the data in today’s upload – while it will have historical significance – will have little impact on the status of the pandemic today,” the DOH said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the DOH reported 7,569 new cases, bringing the state’s overall total to 631,040 since March. Department of Health officials said had it not been for the testing dump from Quest, there would be 3,773 new cases. Prior to Tuesday, Florida had not reported more than 5,000 new cases since Aug. 16.

According to the DOH, Quest did notify all individuals who tested positive prior to this data dump. For the most part the tests were over two weeks old but some dated back five months, officials said.

“The law requires all COVID-19 results to be reported to DOH in a timely manner. To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible. I believe that Quest has abdicated their ability to perform a testing function in Florida that the people can be confident in,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement. “As such I am directing all executive agencies to sever their COVID-19 testing relationships with Quest effective immediately.”

According to the DOH, without the five month backlog of Quest results included in Tuesday’s numbers, the positivity rate for new cases would be 5.9% but with those 75,000 tests it jumped almost a full point to 6.8%.

Despite the testing dump, Florida’s positivity rate-- the number of people who tested positive for the first time compared to overall tests-- still remained below 10%. Medical officials say the rate should be below 10% for at least two weeks to show a decline and Florida has met that criteria for more than two weeks now.

Quest Diagnostics said in a statement the delay in reporting was “due to a technical issue.” The tests are 75,000 of the approximately 1.4 million COVID-19 tests Quest has reported to the state, according to the statement.

“We apologize for this matter and regret the challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida. The issue has since been resolved. Importantly, the issue did not affect or delay reporting of test results to providers and patients,” the statement continued.

According to Quest, the private lab has provided more COVID-19 testing for Florida than any other laboratory.

This isn’t the first time a private lab has skewed the numbers. On Aug. 12, the state said about half of the new cases for that day were from a backlog of testing data from Niznik Lab Corp in Miami. Some of those tests date back to June 23 but had not been reported to the state until Aug. 11.

Several sets of COVID-19 data are not impacted by the testing dump, including deaths and hospitalizations.

On Tuesday, the state reported 190 people had recently died as a result of complications from COVID-19. Virus-related deaths are often delayed in reporting, which means those individuals likely died within the past two weeks. Florida’s death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 11,521 and includes 147 non-residents who died here.

The state reported 364 new hospitalizations on Tuesday, bringing the number of patients who stayed in hospitals due to the virus since March to 38,859. The Agency for Health Care Administration also tracks current hospitalizations. As of Tuesday morning, there are 3,612 people receiving care primarily for coronavirus at hospitals across Florida.

While 1.1 million K-12 students, about 40% of Florida’s student population, returned for on-campus learning by the end of August, a majority are learning through virtual or hybrid options. Tens of thousands of K-12 students have also been unaccounted for, according to school districts, but those numbers are slowly starting to improve.

What is not fully clear yet is the number of COVID-19 cases connected to schools across the state. The Florida Department of Health has said it will release data regarding school-related cases and did momentarily last week only to pull it down off the DOH website.

In Central Florida, some school districts have been reporting how many are told to quarantine per school while other districts are reporting only general numbers district-wide.

On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis made the rounds in Florida reassuring families sending children back to school campuses is safe and more effective. He had help from the White House in the form of Dr. Scott Atlas, the Trump Administration’s new coronavirus advisor.

Atlas joined DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran touting schools reopening and saying the risks to a child’s education is much greater than the disease.

[Database: Tracking coronavirus in Central Florida schools]

Atlas, who is not an infectious disease expert, said “children have no serious risk from this disease, it’s very safe for them, they can handle this.”

Atlas said that distance learning alone “a failure” and disproportionately affects low-income families, saying “this is a huge problem for those families.”

“When you close schools to in-person learning, it is enormously destructive, not just the fact that length that reading skills go down 30%, math skills go down 50%,” Atlas said.

According to Corcoran, the only school to shut down due to COVID-19 so far, was because of the lack of substitute teachers available when 10 teachers at an Osceola County middle school contracted the virus.

Here’s a breakdown of new cases in the Central Florida region, according to the state DOH:

CountyCasesNew casesHospitalizationsNew hospitalizationsDeathsNew deaths

Editor’s note: The numbers and data referenced in this story are publicly available on the Florida Department of Health website here and on the AHCA dashboard here.

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