It’s getting far more complicated to get an accurate look at COVID-19’s spread throughout the state as new information indicates lack of responsive reporting of cases.
Tracking the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state has just become a little more complicated.
Those who monitor the daily pandemic numbers noticed a significant jump on Tuesday when the state recorded 7,569 cases in one day. It turns out Quest Diagnostics had a backlog of nearly 75,000 tests, state officials said, which led to the massive spike. If you take out the backlogged results, Tuesday’s numbers would have been 3,773 positive COVID-19 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The state has now had a total of 631,040 positive cases with 11,521 deaths. Obviously 75,000 backlogged tests threw quite a wrench in those numbers, which led to the state having to rethink its entire reporting system.
Governor Ron DeSantis ordered state agencies to stop working with Quest Diagnostics due to the massive backlog of data. The governor’s office was told Monday evening the massive quantity of tests would be dumped into the system all at once.
Some of the tests dated as far back as April with most being older than two weeks. A large majority of the data came from the mid-June to mid-July period, which was also when Florida reported its string of record-high cases.
“The law requires all COVID-19 results to be reported to DOH in a timely manner,” DeSantis said in a statement Tuesday. “To drop this much unusable and stale data is irresponsible. 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.”
Quest has processed 1.4 million tests for Florida. Even with the backlogged data, the tested patients were notified about their results — those results just weren’t sent to the state.
Quest released a statement saying the backlog was due to a technical issue and that the company remained open to working with the Florida Department of Health. The company issued this statement in regards to 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.”
However, Hillsborough County is not taking DeSantis’ view to heart. Quest Diagnostics will still process tests from five different county-run test sites as Hillsborough has a separate contract with the company. Because of this different contract, they are not impacted by the governor’s order for state agencies to sever ties with the company.
As for Tampa Bay, the area added 817 COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths on Tuesday. With Hillsborough schools officially opening their doors on Monday, many health officials are warning residents to brace for impact.
Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis tweeted on Monday the school district and Tampa General Hospital are partnering up to provide COVID-19 testing for all local teachers and staff. Calling it a “first-of-its-kind partnership,” Davis tweeted the big announcement at 6:22 a.m. followed by a press release detailing the procedures of the expedited testing.
“We have a responsibility to provide a safe back-to-school experience for our staff, while reducing the spread of this challenging virus, and this opportunity ultimately provides a step towards normalcy for the Tampa Bay area,” Davis wrote.
Anyone who believes they have symptoms of COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus can schedule free testing through the school district’s COVID-19 lead. They should hear back with results in the next 24 to 72 hours. To qualify for the testing, employees must “display signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19, may have recent known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 and must have Humana Insurance provided through HCPS.”
As for students, they have a new reality as they head to class to get their education and much of the responsibility lies with their parents. Parents are asked to take their children’s temperature before they leave their house. If the temp is lower than 100.4 degrees, they are good to go and can come to class. If parents notice any coughing, shortness of breath or other COVID-19 symptoms, they are asked to keep the kids home. If they were exposed to someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, they also are asked to stay away from campus.
Once they get to school, students and staff are wearing masks. The only exception is for students who have a medical exemption form signed by a licensed medical professional.
Water fountains have been shut off so students are expected to bring a water bottle with them, though the district added it would also provide some in schools. Bus safety, pick-up and drop-off rules have changed and there is always a chance the rules will change once again if the virus spreads through local schools.