Concerns raised about COVID-19 testing in Florida after massive data dump by Quest

Investigations

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A public health expert is raising concerns about coronavirus testing in Florida following a massive data dump this week that led to the state cutting all ties with one of the biggest testing companies.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Quest Diagnostics released nearly 75,000 COVID-19 test results in a single day, some dating back to April. The state announced it was severing all ties with Quest on Tuesday.

“(Quest) said it was a technical glitch of some kind,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health at the University of South Florida. “But that only really lends concern to the questions of trust and transparency that everybody’s having right now.”

Florida has accused Quest Diagnostics of illegally dumping thousands of backlogged coronavirus test results.

In a statement to 8 On Your Side, Quest said it “takes seriously our responsibility to report laboratory data to public health authorities in a timely manner to aid pandemic response.”

“Due to a technical issue, our reporting of a subset of public health COVID-19 test data to the Florida Department of Health was delayed,” the statement continued. “This subset involves nearly 75,000 of the approximately 1.4 million COVID-19 tests we have performed and reported to the state.”

A spokesperson for Quest apologized and said the company regretted the “challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida. They confirmed the issue has been resolved and noted that the reporting of test results to providers and patients was not affected or delayed.

“Quest Diagnostics has provided more COVID-19 testing on behalf of the citizens of Florida than any other laboratory and we believe we are well-positioned to continue to effectively aid patient care and public health response for the state,” the company said. “We remain open to working with the state Department of Health to provide testing that meets the needs required for patient care and public health response.”

“This really threw a wrench into everything,” Dr. Wolfson said. “The health department didn’t have case tracing information to go into communities and follow up.”

“If this is happening with Quest, it may be happening with others,” he added.

Right now, as more teachers and students are back in the classroom, Florida has severed all ties with Quest. Dr. Wolfson worries about the state of testing in Florida.

“How important is it to have a real-time snapshot of this virus?” asked Investigative Reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

“It’s critically important, especially as we’re moving into the flu season and a likely surge season,” Wolfson said. “Whether they’re in school districts, in business districts or communities – go in, contain them before they become forest fires.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has called the Quest data dump “egregious.”

When asked about the lab’s replacement at a news conference in Jacksonville on Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis said the state has had more success with upstart labs.

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

The hope is we don’t see a COVID-19 surge and a sudden demand for more testing.

8 On Your Side is working to learn what specific lab or labs will take the place of this giant.

If you have a COVID-19 concern, email investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com

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