Hillsborough County maintains contract with Quest Diagnostics despite state firing lab company

The state of Florida will no longer be using one of the area’s largest private medical labs for COVID-19 tests after an “unacceptable” dump of old test results, some of which date back to April.

According to the Department of Health, Quest Diagnostics submitted nearly 75,000 test results to the state late Monday. Most of the data was over two weeks old, and some results were from several months ago.

However, Quest Diagnostics will continue processing tests from five county-run test sites in Hillsborough County.

The county is in a separate contract with the company, which isn't impacted by the governor's order for all of the state's executive agencies to sever ties with Quest Diagnostics. The four state-run test sites in Hillsborough County hadn't been using Quest prior to the governor's statement Tuesday.

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Experts agree that timely test results are key to tracking and containing the spread of the virus, and the governor blasted Quest for the data dump.

“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,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “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.”

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Florida new resident cases in orange; new resident deaths in gray. Note: Deaths usually appear to be trending down because of the delay in confirming the last few days of data. Source: Fla. Dept. of Health.

The state of Florida primarily relies on private labs to perform COVID-19 tests, then report the results to the Department of Health. Quest and LabCorp are two of the largest such labs, together handling the vast majority of tests in Florida.

It was not immediately clear if there were any outstanding results yet to be submitted, or what labs would be used in place of Quest. The individuals who were tested had all been notified of their results already, the state noted.

“While significant, this unacceptable dump of test results is a data issue and does not impact the health of individuals or the spread of COVID-19 in Florida,” a DOH spokesperson added.

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This is not the first time that the state has complained about a late data dump skewing daily updates, and a problem with a small number of labs only reporting positive tests a few months ago left the governor scrambling to maintain confidence in the state’s testing system.

Quest issued the following statement regarding the data dump:

"Quest Diagnostics takes seriously our responsibility to report laboratory data to public health authorities in a timely manner to aid pandemic response. Due to a technical issue, our reporting of a subset of public health COVID-19 test data to the Florida Department of Health was delayed. This subset involves nearly 75,000 of the approximately 1.4 million COVID-19 tests we had performed and reported to the state.

"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.

"Quest Diagnostics has provided more COVID-19 testing on behalf of the citizens of Florida than any other laboratory and we believe we are well positioned to continue to effectively aid patient care and public health response for the state. 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."