State: 7,500 case increase Tuesday skewed by Quest COVID-19 data dump

Florida severs ties with lab after coronavirus testing data backlog

File photo of testing samples. (Photo by Danny Lawson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
File photo of testing samples. (Photo by Danny Lawson - WPA Pool/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Before dropping the state’s daily update of COVID-19 numbers Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health issued a warning: today’s numbers aren’t really today’s numbers.

A massive dump of testing data from Quest Diagnostics -- dating as far back as April -- is skewing the data, the FDOH said.

Quest Diagnostics is a large, nationwide lab that provides testing at private sites, as well as performing limited testing through the state, the health department said. Quest labs have also processed testing samples collected at government-sponsored testing sites or by private medical providers.

But after the “unacceptable dump of test results” -- nearly 75,000 total -- that dropped Monday night, the state is severing ties with Quest, saying the lab violated the law that requires tests be reported to the health department in a timely manner.

“To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible,” Gov. Ron 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 told the state that everyone who tested positive among the 75,000 results had already been notified.

The FDOH expressed frustration, saying that it included the backlogged results in the upload of data for Tuesday’s coronavirus numbers update, but the numbers will not reflect what is happening currently with the pandemic in Florida.

“I’ve been preaching be wary of some of these test results because it’s about when the lab puts it in -- they don’t all do the negatives. But this is the most egregious dump we’ve had,” DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday. “Obviously, I think anyone should just take today’s results and just put them aside because most of those were not recent results.”

DeSantis said following testing data can be flawed because of when the results are dropped into the system from the labs, but he said the Quest backlog was particularly upsetting because local governments are using testing data to determine whether schools and businesses should reopen.

“There’s a lot of these companies that are making huge, huge amounts of money,” DeSantis said of the testing labs. “The problem is, when you’re sloppy with it, it ends up impacting people’s lives.”

The state said even though most of the Quest data were over two weeks old -- some as much as five months old -- it “incorporated information that would be useful and included the rest in the interest of transparency.”

Most of the missing Quest test data should have been reported in June and July, during Florida’s peak of COVID-19 case increases, according to a table included Tuesday in the state’s COVID-19 data.

According to the data released Tuesday, Florida has now reported 631,040 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began -- an additional 7,569 cases from the day before.

But the state clarified the data, saying without the Quest data, the state would have added 3,773 new cases with a positivity rate of 5.9% -- well in line with current trends of the last 7-10 days.

Florida and Duval County’s daily COVID-19 case increases

The state also reported an additional 190 deaths of residents and non-residents related to COVID-19 in Tuesday’s data. That brought Florida’s total to 11,521 deaths since the pandemic began.

Among the 190 deaths reported Tuesday were 16 in Northeast Florida counties, including five each in Duval and Columbia, two in St. Johns and one each in Baker, Clay, Nassau and Putnam.

Duval County has now reported 26,683 cases of COVID-19 with 259 deaths.

County-by-county breakdown for Northeast Florida

Note: As explained, this data includes the dump from Quest labs and does not reflect cases actually tested in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, in a Tuesday morning phone call with hospital officials, Molly McKinstry, a deputy secretary at the Agency for Health Care Administration, said new federal regulations will be finalized and published this week affecting laboratory reporting and nursing-home reporting of COVID-19 results.

McKinstry said the state anticipates there will be penalties for failure to comply with the federal regulations.

“Please make sure that … any lab issues you’re involved with, whether hospital-based labs, point-of-care devices or a lab you contact with for services, please make sure that that reporting is happening timely to the Department of Health. It’s incredibly important to monitor the impact of cases in our state, among other things,” McKinstry said on the phone call.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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