Virus Outbreak Florida

A health worker performs a COVID-19 test Sunday, July 12, 2020, at the Orange County Convention Center, in Orlando, Fla.

(The Center Square) – Several private labs contracted to process COVID-19 tests in Florida are reporting “incomplete data” that artificially could be boosting the state’s positivity rate for the coronavirus, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) said.

DOH maintains that “incomplete data” is negative test results, noting several labs are returning only 100 percent positive results and others are reporting positivity rates in the 80- and 90-percent range.

Orlando's FOX 35 News was the first to report the discrepancy Tuesday after an investigation revealed one testing site reported 83 tested people all returned positive results and another reported an 88 percent positivity rate.

Orlando Health sent 522 tests to a lab that returned 512 positive results, a 98 percent positivity rate. Orlando Health maintains when it asked the batch to be reprocessed, only 9.4 percent, less than 50, were actually positive.

Orlando’s Veterans Affairs hospital reported tests returning with positivity rates of 31, 46 and 76 percent on a combined 710 tests sent to various labs, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

DOH reported Wednesday that 2.74 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in Florida, with 2.43 million testing negative, for an overall 11 percent positivity rate. How significant the unreported negative tests – and how many there could be – is uncertain.

“The department immediately began working with those labs to ensure all results were being reported in order to provide comprehensive and transparent data,” a DOH spokesman said Tuesday. “As the state continues to receive results from various labs, the department will continue educating these labs on proper protocol for reporting COVID-19 test results.”

According to DOH, the discrepancies are emerging from smaller labs that may be following the same reporting guidelines for COVID-19 as they do for other infectious diseases, such as gonorrhea or HIV, that don’t report negative results.

“Private and public laboratories are required to report positive and negative test results to the state immediately,” DOH told FOX 35 News in a Tuesday email. “In recent days, the Florida Department of Health noticed that some smaller, private labs weren’t reporting negative test result data to the state. The department immediately began working with those labs to ensure all results were being reported in order to provide comprehensive and transparent data.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state's Merlin system for reportable illnesses requires positive test results only be forwarded to DOH. In March, he said, "We said report the negatives, too. There were a lot of labs doing what the default is, sending the positives only. I know some of the major labs were submitting the positives only first in April and May and then they would dump the negatives later. We'd have a positive rate of 0.6 (percent)" which officials recognized as inaccurate.

Larger, industrial-sized labs, which do the bulk of the testing, are including full results, including negative tests, DOH said.

Among them are Quest Diagnostics in Tampa, which has reported an 11 percent positivity rate for 540,816 tests; Laboratory Corporation of America, 12 percent positive out of 455,836 tests; Bio Reference Laboratories, 13 percent of 360,286 tests; and AdventHealth, 11 percent positive out of 103,000 tests.

DOH and others are increasingly questioning how a matrix of private labs analyzing tests are not following the same guidelines and often file results in “data dumps” days, even weeks, after being processed, skewering the “snap shot” of the coronavirus' spread that public health officials say is necessary to combat COVID-19.

DOH reported 15,300 COVID-19 positive test results Sunday, the nation’s highest single-day total. More than 7,000 were reported by GENETWORx, a Virginia lab that has accounted for 52,000 of the 301,810 COVID-19 cases reported in Florida despite handling a lesser volume of testing than other labs.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the state can “create a case the way this is reported,” a claim made Monday in a Just The News analysis that said DOH may have inflated case counts since mid-June by as much as 30 percent.

It’s essentially the same claim in reverse made by Rebekah Jones, the geographic information system analyst fired by DOH in May. Jones said the way DOH reports "case date" and "event date" underreports cases.