Quest said a ‘technical issue’ had delayed reporting of test data to the state and claimed that patients and providers still received the results in a timely manner

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered state agencies to cut ties with Quest Diagnostics due to delays in reporting nearly 75,000 COVID-19 clinical laboratory test results going back as far as April. The medical laboratory giant provided the backlogged data in what the state described as an “unacceptable dump” that inflated the state’s case count and SARS-CoV-2 test positivity rate reported for August 31.

The Florida Department of Health (DOH) announced the move in a press release. The order also applies to the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).

“The law requires all COVID-19 results to be reported to DOH in a timely manner,” DeSantis said in a statement following the announcement of his directives. “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. As such I am directing all executive agencies to sever their COVID-19 testing relationships with Quest effective immediately.”

DeSantis later elaborated during a Sept. 1 press conference. “These labs know that their results are being used by people to determine the course of certain policies,” he said. “Someone will say the positive rate has gone up. Maybe we can’t go [to] in-person schooling.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (above) answers questions from reporters concerning COVID-19 reporting. Click here to watch a video of the press briefing. (Video copyright: Miami Herald.)

Quest Diagnostics Said, ‘Technical Issue’ Caused Delay in Reporting

In a statement that described the delay as a “technical issue” involving a subset of the approximately 1.4 million test results reported to the State of Florida, Quest said the issue has been resolved and that it “did not affect or delay reporting of test results to providers and patients.”

Still, “Quest Diagnostics takes seriously our responsibility to report laboratory data to public health authorities in a timely manner to aid pandemic response,” the company said. “We apologize for this matter and regret the challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida.”

The company added that it “has provided more COVID-19 testing on behalf of the citizens of Florida than any other laboratory and we believe we are well positioned to continue to effectively aid patient care and public health response for the state. We remain open to working with the state Department of Health to provide testing that meets the needs required for patient care and public health response.”

A Quest spokesperson told WTLV-TV in Jacksonville that the glitch was related to missing contact information for some of the tested patients. The missing data “was maintained in a separate system outside our typical data reporting process to the state,” she said. “When we became aware that we had not reported the [COVID-19 test] data—once the missing information was completed—to state public health [officials], we promptly informed the appropriate state authorities of the delayed reporting, provided the information on the specimens, and remedied our procedure.”

Impact of Reporting Delay on State

Most of the delayed results of the COVID-19 tests were more than two weeks old, and some were almost five months old, the DOH said. The Tampa Bay Times reported that most were from mid-June to mid-July, “when Florida was reporting record-high cases.”

Without the backlogged data, the state would have reported 3,773 new cases on August 31, the DOH said, but the delayed results added 3,870 cases, bringing the total to 7,643. The backlogged data also inflated the reported positivity rate from 5.9% to 6.8%, the DOH said. The positivity rate is regarded as a key indicator of the degree of disease transmission in a community, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health noted.

Impact on Quest Diagnostics

Most of Quest’s COVID-19 testing in Florida has been conducted at private sites, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. However, in May, June, and July, the Florida Division of Emergency Management announced a series of partnerships with Quest Diagnostics to provide walk-up and drive-in testing services at local retailers, including Publix and The Home Depot (NYSE:HD).

“Quest Diagnostics was only being utilized at a limited number of state-supported sites,” FDEM spokesman Jason Mahon told the Tallahassee Democrat, adding that the state should be able to find other clinical laboratory companies to replace that work.

However, even if Quest’s testing for the state was limited, the governor’s order could still be costly to the company. A search of the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System database indicates that the state paid Quest nearly $1.8 million for COVID-19 testing services. And the state has used Quest to provide non-COVID-19 services amounting to $7.9 million in 2019 and 2020 as well, according to the database. It’s not clear how the latter will be affected by Governor DeSantis’ directives.

Overall, Quest accounts for at least 13% of the six million COVID-19 tests run in the Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported, citing data from the DOH.

Other Times Florida Had Issues with Clinical Laboratory Companies

Quest is not the first clinical laboratory company to run afoul of Florida regulatory agencies. On August 12, the DOH announced that Niznik Lab Corp. of Miami submitted a backlog of 4,000 cases dating back to June 23, CBS News reported.

“This backlog severely skews today’s daily report for Miami-Dade County and is not reflective of current trends,” the agency stated in a press release.

And this isn’t the first time that Florida has had issues with COVID-19 testing contracts, as Dark Daily previously reported.

On May 15, the state cancelled a contract with MicroGen Diagnostics to provide testing services, due to concerns about reliability and processing speed, Florida Bulldog reported. AdventHealth, a large non-profit health system in Altamonte Springs, Fla., cited similar issues in cancelling a contract with MicroGen Diagnostics, according to USA Today

According to Florida Bulldog, “Gov. Ron DeSantis touted an $11-million COVID-19 testing deal with a Texas-based lab now embroiled in controversy and facing questions about the reliability of its tests,” and that, “under pressure” the Governor in an April 22 press conference said, “we have two contracts in place with two new labs that will increase our lab capacity by 18,000 samples per day.”

Florida Bulldog went on to state, “One of those firms was Southwest Regional PCR, of Lubbock, Texas, which does business as MicroGenDX, headquartered in Orlando. The Executive Office of the Governor had signed an $11-million contract the day before with the firm for ‘COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing ($99 per test 8,000 tests per day for 14 days).’

“Less than a month later, however, the governor’s office quietly canceled the contract amid questions about MicroGenDX’s dependability,” Florida Bulldog reported.

In addition, an $11.3 million state contract with Indur Services was reduced to $2.2 million for testing supplies after media outlets reported that the company’s founder had pleaded guilty to multiple federal insurance fraud charges in Texas, Florida Bulldog reported.

All levels of government in the United States are under extreme pressure to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effective and timely manner. The results of clinical laboratory tests for SARS-CoV-2 are the closely-watched measure of whether infections are increasing, holding steady, or decreasing in a community, a region, or a state.

That is why any delay in reporting the tests results to government entities is a cause for concern. It is also why the news media are quick to report any problems clinical laboratories have with their COVID-19 testing programs.

—Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Florida Department of Health and Florida Division of Emergency Management Sever Ties with Quest Diagnostics After Quest Failed to Follow Florida Law

Quest Diagnostics Media Statement about COVID-19 Testing

Florida Cuts Ties with Quest for Failing to Report 75,000 COVID-19 Tests

DeSantis, DOH Sever Ties with Quest Diagnostics Over COVID-19 Testing Backlog

Florida Cuts Ties with Quest Diagnostics Lab for 75,000 Withheld Coronavirus Tests

Florida Drops Quest for Coronavirus Testing After Lab Reports Backlog of 75,000 Test Results

Florida Drops Quest Diagnostics over Failure to Report Nearly 75,000 COVID Results Dating Back to April

Florida Cuts Ties with Quest Diagnostics After Delay in Reporting Months of COVID-19 results

FDA Investigates Lab as Tens of Thousands of COVID-19 Test Results in Florida are Questioned

Florida Department of Health Updates New COVID-19 Cases, Announces Two Hundred Twelve Deaths Related to COVID-19

South Florida Lab Under Investigation for Holding on to Thousands of COVID Test Results

COVID-19 Testing: Understanding the “Percent Positive”