The way state health officials currently report the number of coronavirus test results they are waiting for, Florida could have thousands more pending results than what is currently reported.
Although the Department of Health (DOH) has the coronavirus test results of 173,187 individuals, the state reports only 1,418 pending results. According to the Miami Herald, nearly 800 results have not been returned to two small, private health care providers, likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Early in the Florida coronavirus outbreak, state health officials acknowledged that there is a lag in reporting pending results because private labs don’t immediately notify DOH when they start processing results, if at all. However, that fact is not immediately apparent on the department’s twice-daily COVID-19 reports.
“Now that private lab testing is widely available, many providers do not alert the Department prior to ordering a test. The private labs then report to the Department after the test occurs,” the department said in a statement to Florida Politics.
The state’s “awaiting testing” number also includes those who have not yet had their samples collected for laboratory testing.
New “rapid” 45-minute and 5-minute tests are in use in some major hospitals and are also being used to spot check nursing homes. However, most test kits in use take several days to return results, and some people claim they finally get their results days after they expected them.
But in a statement to the Herald, DOH said there is no backlog associated with department-coordinated testing efforts.
“Awaiting testing represents the number of individuals for whom a test has been ordered but have not yet received results, including those who have not yet had their specimens collected for laboratory testing,” the department said.
Private labs have completed more than 90% of Florida’s tests, and the top six labs for results returned to Florida are all privately owned. Quest Diagnostics’ Tampa lab has returned the most tests — 52,206 total, including 5,308 positives. Meanwhile, the Florida Bureau of Public Health Laboratories’ Jacksonville lab, seventh on the list, has only returned 5,496 tests with 711 positives.
Uncompleted test results mean health officials don’t have a real-time picture of the disease’s prevalence in Florida, Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, told the Herald. That information would people know when life may start returning to normal.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted the state’s relatively high testing count — he expects the state will soon have the results of one in 100 Floridians — and its transparency in sharing results. But Caplan called the lack of complete information in the twice-daily reports “unethical and a betrayal of trust to the public that they’re supposed to serve.”
DOH did not respond to Florida Politics’ inquiries into whether the department was exploring how to compel private labs to notify the state when they are processing results.