By John Haughey
The Center Square
September 3, 2020
(The Center Square) – Quest Diagnostics, one the nation’s largest diagnostic corporations with 20 industrial labs it said can process 200,000 coronavirus tests a day, has been fired by Florida.
New Jersey-based Quest, which has processed nearly 1 million of the 6.3 million diagnostic coronavirus tests completed in Florida since March, no longer will be contracted by the state after it returned 75,000 test results dating to April to the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in a Tuesday “data dump,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Citing a new rule, DeSantis said with Tuesday’s data dump, Quest Diagnostics – already under fire in Florida and other states – effectively is precluded from conducting business with the state.
DeSantis, who has been critical of the “testing industrial complex,” said private labs are making so much money from processing coronavirus tests they feel dismissive of clients’ needs, and, he said, Florida won’t stand for it.
“There’s a lot of these companies making huge, huge amounts of money,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “Go back a year, they would have never thought they could have made this much money. The problem is, when you’re sloppy with it, it ends up impacting people’s lives.”
Quest Diagnostics had run afoul of Florida officials over “data dumps” in July and in late March, when it sent 4,000 patient test results in one batch, causing an artificial 25 percent spike in daily coronavirus reporting.
After an August data dump by Niznik Lab Corp, which DeSantis brushed off as a new lab trying to meet demand, he ordered DOH to post guidelines with consequences for labs that release results in data dumps that skewer data.
Quest Diagnostics’ data dump met the “death penalty” benchmark, allowing the state to sever contracts with it.
The governor’s office was told Monday evening that Quest’s 75,000 test results would be entered into DOH’s COVID-19 dashboard Tuesday morning.
According to the governor’s office, the positivity rate for 3,773 new cases Tuesday was 5.9 percent. With Quest’s 75,000 test results added, the day’s count shows 7,643 new cases and a 6.8 percent positivity rate.
“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 do all the negatives,” DeSantis said. “But this is the most egregious dump we’ve had.”
Ignore Tuesday’s DOH COVID-19 report, he said, noting the state ideally will replace Quest with a smaller, more nimble Florida-based operation.
“We’ve had more success with some of the more upstart labs in terms of their turnaround times, so I think that there’s a lot of options there,” DeSantis said.
Montana also fired Quest, which had handled all its coronavirus testing, last month because of slow returns. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday his state also is considering alternatives to Quest, noting it can take up to nine days to get test results back.
“Almost useless from an epidemiological or even diagnostic perspective,” Polis said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week slow test turnaround times were unacceptable, but few private diagnostic lab operators offer the capacity Quest does.
“It’s rather preposterous that you get a test and 13, 14 days later you get the results,” Newsom said, adding results in those cases are “utterly meaningless” but “we’re not going to abandon Quest. We need them as one of our partners.”
DeSantis said Tuesday late returns are one of many issues in coronavirus diagnostic “snap-shot” testing.
“This whole testing regime” is “problematic, to say the least,” he said. “I’m not saying you don’t consider it, but you have to consider it knowing the limitations.”