- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday ordered all state agencies to sever ties with Quest Diagnostics due to the company's delay in reporting results from 75,000 COVID-19 tests, some dating back to April, to the state's Department of Health. "To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible," DeSantis said in a statement, noting the lab giant's lack of timely reporting is not only a violation of state law but has hurt public health efforts to accurately gauge confirmed coronavirus cases.
- While Florida's DOH said the delayed data for its monitoring system has some "historical" significance, it will have "little impact" on the state's current efforts to battle the pandemic given Quest's tardiness. The late testing results, most of which were over two weeks old and some almost five months old, have boosted Florida's COVID-19 positivity rate for new cases to 6.8%, from 5.9%, and total new cases to 7,643 from 3,773.
- Quest apologized in a statement for the delay in getting the data to Florida public health authorities and blamed it on a "technical issue" that has since been resolved. However, the lab giant said the issue did not affect or delay reporting of test results to providers and patients. Asked how the DeSantis order will financially impact Quest, a spokesperson said the volume of COVID-19 testing the company provides to Florida DOH and related agencies is a "small portion" of the overall testing it performs for hospitals and physicians in the state.
Quest has had a large presence in Florida, a state that is seeing big demand for COVID-19 testing. It also does a lot of business in California and Texas. All three high-population states saw coronavirus cases spike in mid-July, generating a surge in demand for molecular diagnostic testing and causing delays of a week or more in reporting results for non-priority patients.
The lab giant notified the governor's office on Monday that a batch of results would be entered in Florida's health department monitoring system, according to DOH. Individuals who tested positive were notified of their results, and the delay does not affect the health of patients or spread of the virus in Florida, the state said.
Still, the delay in reporting the data to the state represents an "unacceptable dump of test results," DeSantis said. "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."
Quest said the nearly 75,000 delayed tests were a subset of the 1.4 million COVID-19 tests that the company performed and reported to the state, more than any other laboratory.
"We apologize for this matter and regret the challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida," Quest said. "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."
Quest blamed the delay in getting the data to Florida DOH on the fact that specimens often arrive in a lab lacking information needed by public health agencies. In this case, the affected specimens lacked patient addresses or phone numbers, according to the company.
"As the data for public health reporting, on these specimens, was managed outside our typical workflow, it was not uploaded into the Florida DOH data system according to the established procedure we have used successfully for the vast majority of testing in Florida," a Quest spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Greg Slabodkin contributed to this story.