Is a testing backlog to blame for Florida’s surge in COVID-19 cases?

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click to enlarge FLORIDA SURGEON GENERAL SCOTT A. RIVKEES, M.D.

  • Florida Surgeon General Scott A. Rivkees, M.D.

State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, the secretary of the Florida Department of Health, said a “backlog” at one of the state’s largest testing partners is responsible for a recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Quest Diagnostics, Rivkees said, sent more than 4,000 patient test results to the state Wednesday night, causing a 25 percent spike Thursday over the day before in the number of positive cases reported. As of Thursday night, 2,484 positive cases had been reported. The spike continued into Friday as the Department of Health said 2,900 residents or visitors had tested positive for COVID-19.

“They got caught up in the backlog in their laboratory,” Rivkees said of the 4,000 patient results the state received Wednesday night. “They typically send us results from 1,200 to 2,000 patients a day. So that’s what that spike represents.”

Quest Diagnostics has testing sites across the state, and Rivkees didn’t comment on which laboratory had the backlog. Quest Diagnostics in Tampa had tested 7,552 people, according to Thursday data.

Rivkees made the rermarks on a conference call with some of the state’s long-term care providers. Quest Diagnostics’ corporate communications department did not immediately answer questions about the backlog and why it occurred.

Shortly after Rivkees’ remarks, the state sent an advisory to all so-called CLIA laboratories advising them of regulations requiring the prompt reporting of the information and penalties, including $500 fines, for not complying with the rules. CLIA – or the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 – set federal standards for all U.S. facilities or sites that test human specimens for health assessments or to diagnose, prevent or treat diseases.

“Please be advised that strict compliance with this rule is of the utmost importance during this public health emergency.,” the state Agency for Health Care Administration said in the advisory. “Any gaps or delays in reporting time hinder efficient emergency response and resource allocation. The Department (of Health) trusts you, the CLIA-certified facility, to meet your obligation to report immediately during this pandemic.”

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