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Florida contractors didn’t report 230,000 COVID tests on time during omicron wave

The Department of Health reprimanded the companies in letters Monday.
People line up in their cars to get a free COVID-19 test at a site in Palm Beach Gardens on Aug. 18, 2021.
People line up in their cars to get a free COVID-19 test at a site in Palm Beach Gardens on Aug. 18, 2021.
Published Feb. 10

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Health on Monday reprimanded two companies for failing to report more than 230,000 COVID-19 tests taken in December and January.

The missing tests could mean that the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Florida was even higher than reported during the state’s omicron wave — the most widespread outbreak to date — which peaked at over 65,000 average daily cases on Jan. 11, according to federal health data.

The state has received all of the missing test results and state employees are currently reviewing the data, Department of Health spokesperson Jeremy Redfern said in an email to the Times/Herald.

According to letters from the department to the testing contractors, Nomi Health didn’t report 150,000 lab records, most of which originated between Jan. 13-18. Empire City Laboratories failed to account for more than 80,000 tests, mostly between Dec. 1, 2021, and Jan. 30.

Adding Nomi’s 150,000 test results would have increased the number of tests reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during that time period by about 15 percent. Adding in Empire City Laboratories’ data would increase total tests by about 1 percent during the relevant time period.

Already, the state has identified about 15,000 new positive cases based on a preliminary look at the information from Nomi and Empire City, Redfern said.

A Nomi spokesperson said patients got their results on time. Empire City did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A Department of Health spokesperson said the state does not know if any residents failed to get their test results from the companies, or got them late.

The letter to Nomi also alleges that the company submitted testing data with incorrect dates, names and test results. It is not clear how many tests included erroneous data.

“Going forward, you must ensure that your company immediately corrects recurring data quality issues that impact the Department’s ability to process and analyze your data,” Carina Blackmore, the director of the department’s disease control and health protection division, wrote to Nomi.

The issues with the missing tests were first reported by Politico.

Nomi operates 49 COVID-19 testing sites across the state, including nine in the Tampa Bay area, according to the company’s website. Empire City Laboratories operates two locations in the Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale areas.

When asked Tuesday whether the state would continue to work with the firms going forward, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo did not directly answer but said his department is “working with the firms to address the shortcomings in their data communication and data transfer.”

According to a state database of contracts, Nomi has gotten more than $46.5 million in state contracts for testing and vaccination services from the governor’s office since February 2021. In July, Nomi Health gave Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political committee $100,000.

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A search of the database of state contracts for Empire City did not yield any results.

When asked in an email whether that donation would shape how the state handles Nomi’s testing issues going forward, Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, criticized the question.

“The framing of your question implies, without evidence of course, that the state’s relationship with a contractor is ‘shaped’ by political contributions,” Pushaw wrote. “We categorically reject that premise.”

• • •

How to get tested

Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.

Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.

The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.

• • •

How to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:

Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.

More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.

Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

TTY: 888-720-7489

Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.

• • •

More coronavirus coverage

OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious COVID-19 variant affects masks, vaccines, boosters and quarantining.

KIDS AND VACCINES: Got questions about vaccinating your kid? Here are some answers.

BOOSTER SHOTS: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help.

BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here’s the answers to your questions.

PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how seniors can stay safe from the virus.

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

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