Florida drops Quest for coronavirus testing after lab reports backlog of 75,000 test results

A medical provider bags a completed test at the STRIDE Community Health Center’s COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at the Aurora Health and Wellness Plaza March 26, 2020.

Andy Cross | The Denver Post | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered state health agencies to cut ties with Quest Diagnostics, one of the country’s largest labs, after the company failed to report nearly 75,000 coronavirus tests in a timely manner, according to the state’s department of health.

The bulk of the 75,000 previously unreported tests are two-weeks old with some dating back as many as five months, the department of health said. The Department of Health said Quest informed everyone who tested positive of their results, despite the backlog in reporting onward to the state.

The governor’s office did not learn of the backlog in test results until Monday, the Department of Health said. 

“The law requires all COVID-19 results to be reported to DOH in a timely manner. To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible,” DeSantis said in a statement. “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.”

Representatives of DeSantis’ office and the Florida Department of Health did not immediately return CNBC’s request for more information on the state’s decision to drop Quest.

Representatives of Quest did not immediately return CNBC’s request for comment. Shares of Quest traded nearly 2% lower in midday trading.

The reporting backlog, the Department of Health said, is impacting the state’s data. Without including the backlog, Florida reported 3,773 new cases on Monday and 5.9% of all tests conducted came back positive, the state said. Including the backlog, the percent of tests that came back positive rose to 6.8% and the total number of new cases reported on Monday increased to 7,643, according to the state.

Labs across the country struggled to keep pace with the rapid rise of coronavirus cases earlier this summer, leading to long lines at testing centers and turnaround times of more than a week for some patients. Last week, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith pressed five of the nation’s largest testing labs, including Quest, over delays in processing coronavirus tests as the flu season approaches.

While new kinds of tests have come onto the market, alleviating the burden on commercial labs like those operated by Quest, the senators expressed concern that as flu season settles in and the same labs work double-time to process tests for both flu and Covid-19, it “may again strain labs’ ability to perform and deliver test results in a timely manner.”

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