This past Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) announced that the department would stop working with Quest Diagnostics. Quest is one of the biggest COVID-19 test providers in the nation, with test centers and labs set up in many states. The company claimed in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that it has “provided more COVID-19 testing on behalf of the citizens of Florida than any other laboratory.”
So, why is Florida’s DOH cutting ties? Quest Diagnostics failed to report the results of 75,000 tests to the state department in a timely manner. Most of these results were at least two weeks old, and some were as old as April. As all the old results were logged at once on Monday night, Florida’s test and case counts both shot up: nearly 4,000 of those tests were positive.
Such a reporting delay skews analysis of Florida’s testing capacity over time, especially as many of the backlogged tests were reportedly conducted during the peak of the state’s outbreak in June and July. This delay also likely means that, while the people tested with this batch of tests still received their results in a timely manner (according to Quest), contact tracers and other public health workers were unable to track or trace the nearly 4,000 Floridians who were diagnosed. Such an error may have led to many more cases.
According to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, such an error is tantamount to violating state law:
“To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible,” DeSantis said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
But is cutting all ties with Quest the correct response? Florida’s testing capacity already is below recommended levels. According to the Harvard Global Health Institute, the state has conducted 124 tests per 100,000 people over the past week (August 30 to September 5), with a positivity rate of 13.2%. This per capita rate is far below the state’s suggested mitigation target of 662 tests per 100,000 people, and this test positivity rate is far above the recommended World Health Organization rate of 5%.
Florida will be able to send many of its tests to state-supported, public testing sites, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Still, this switch will take time and cause additional logistical hurdles at a time when Florida should not be putting the breaks on testing.