Nearly 35,000 coronavirus tests in Florida cannot be processed

The latest mishap came when more than 1,700 completed tests were damaged in transit
Health care workers talk with a patient before collecting a sample AdventHealth opens a new free of cost and non-invasive COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Adventure Island on April 22 in Tampa.
Health care workers talk with a patient before collecting a sample AdventHealth opens a new free of cost and non-invasive COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Adventure Island on April 22 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 21, 2020|Updated May 22, 2020

More than 1,700 COVID-19 tests administered to people in Florida were damaged in transit during the month of May, the Florida Division of Emergency Management announced Wednesday.

That brings to nearly 35,000 the number of tests administered in Florida to face complications recently. On Saturday, AdventHealth announced that 33,000 of its tests in central and west Florida would either not be processed or were deemed unreliable because of an issue with a laboratory.

AdventHealth canceled its contract with the lab, Microgen DX, because it was “unable to fulfill its obligation." But the chief executive of Microgen DX rebutted the healthcare provider’s assessment during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

Overall, between state-supported walk-up sites and state-supported drive-thru sites, more than 196,000 tests have been administered for COVID-19, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The 1,702 damaged tests account for about 2 percent of the 90,000 tests conducted at similar sites in May, the state said. State officials said the tests were damaged in shipments throughout the month and did not include any samples from Tampa Bay.

Tests can be damaged in transit in a number of ways, officials told the Times in email. They may crack, break or have a loose lid that allows some of the sample to leak. These risks "come with moving tests from testing site to the lab for processing,” the email said.

Counties where tests were damaged include Broward, Collier, Duval, Escambia, Lee, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Sarasota.

The damaged tests, administered at drive-thru and walk-up test sites, will need to be redone. Any individual whose sample was damaged will be contacted and will need to be retested, a news release said.

Related: COVID-19 testing at Adventure Island suspended after lab issues

The news of the damaged tests comes days after AdventHealth announced issues with 8,000 COVID-19 tests conducted in West Florida, some of them at Adventure Island in Tampa and AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.

The healthcare provider said it is contacting people whose samples are being thrown out. AdventHealth said the issue was related to problems with a third-party lab and affected about 33,000 people statewide.

But Rick Martin, chief executive of MicroGen DX, told the Times on Thursday that AdventHealth’s claims the tests were unreliable is “complete and utter nonsense, not backed up by any science.”

“Every one of those tests is 100 percent reliable, accurate, and was done according to standards,” Martin said.

AdventHealth canceled the contract because it was frustrated with delays in turnaround time, Martin said. The lab was processing results at a slower rate because it didn’t have access to supplies it needed to run the tests, he said. Some machines also were down temporarily.

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But Martin said none of the test samples were close to expiring, as Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news conference Monday.

“One of the healthcare systems reported that they had thousands of tests that they had sent to a lab, and ... they just got stuck in a warehouse,” DeSantis said. “They figured out that this lab, I think it was in Texas, just let the samples be spoiled.”

The MicroGen DX lab is in Texas, but the rest of DeSantis’ statement was wrong, Martin said. The oldest samples in the lab were 12 days old and the company’s stability data shows samples can last up to 30 days at room temperature, he said.

“Somebody is lying to him and is not informed,” Martin said. “That was not the case. It was never a question of the stability."

He blamed the delay, in part, in problems AdventHealth had connecting MicroGen DX to its electronic medical record system. Samples were sent without patient information, he said.

The Times shared these comments with AdventHealth, but spokeswoman Richelle Hones declined to address them.

“We stand by our statement and remain focused on supporting everyone who has been impacted by this situation,” Hones said in an email.

Martin said AdventHealth’s claims have damaged his lab’s reputation, especially in Florida. MicorGen Dx is accredited by the College of American Pathologists and is prepared for regulators to review the issues raised by AdventHealth. If they find no issues with the reliability of the tests, Martin said he wants an apology from AdventHealth.

Debra Hedding, 66, said she got tested at an AdventHealth site in Wesley Chapel on May 1. She was told she’d have her results in 72 hours. But despite weeks of waiting and a number of phone calls, Hedding heard nothing until Wednesday, nearly three weeks later.

A nurse called her and told her her results were “negative—unreliable," Hedding said. “He said he blamed the failure on the lab that they contracted with for the test.”

He offered to set her up with a new test, but she declined. “I simply don’t have the energy to deal with this mess of a system,” she said.

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