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 is ordering 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, the state’s Department of Health said Tuesday.

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.”

Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Quest was processed Covid-19 tests at a “limited number” of state-supported testing sites and will no longer be used at them.

“Whenever a lab does not fulfill its obligations to provide testing results with an acceptable turnaround time, or report those results to the state, the Division stops doing business with that lab,” he said in a statement to CNBC. He added that he has “no concerns” about transitioning to different labs.

Quest attributed the delay in reporting to a “technical issue,” adding that the affected test results are just 75,000 of the roughly 1.4 million coronavirus tests Quest has processed in Florida.

“We apologize for this matter and regret the challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida. The issue has since been resolved. Importantly, the issue did not affect or delay reporting of test results to providers and patients,” Wendy Bost, a spokeswoman for Quest, said in a statement to CNBC. “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.”

Shares of Quest traded more than 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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