Scientists at Connecticut's public health laboratory say they've discovered a flaw in a manufacturer's testing system for the coronavirus that's used by labs around the country. So far, it's resulted in 90 people - mostly residents of Connecticut nursing homes and assisted living facilities - recently receiving false positive tests.
State public health officials are now reviewing whether nursing home residents who received false positive tests were grouped with other residents with accurate positive tests, given the state's recommendation to cohort nursing home residents who test positive for COVID-19.
“We don't know that yet,” said Josh Geballe, Gov. Ned Lamont's chief operating officer, noting that a team from the state's Department of Public Health has been reaching out to every clinician responsible for those individuals, as well as the facilities where they live, and compiling data on the situation.
Meanwhile, Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the state's acting public health commissioner, said her agency is also reaching out to labs throughout the state to see how many of them use the testing platform manufactured by Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Yale epidemiologist and researcher Dr. Albert Ko, who co-chaired Lamont's reopening advisory committee, said the particular test is being used in many commercial labs around the U.S. He said the employees at Connecticut's state laboratory deserve “a shout-out” for discovering the flaw because it not only highlighted a potential problem in nursing home testing but “helped people all over the country who are using that test.”
But Ko noted that no test is perfect.
“In a state like ours, which is using large-scale, intense testing to keep down transmission, we are going to have false positives,” he said. "And that’s going to happen even in the best of tests because none of them are 100% positive."
DPH said the affected patients were originally tested between June 15 and July 17. A total of 144 tested positive and 90 were discovered to be false positives. The state has reported the flaw to the manufacturer and to the federal Food and Drug Administration. In a written statement, the agency said the exact cause of the false positive results is still being investigated.
Any nursing home resident that had a false positive COVID-19 test result will be retested as soon as possible, DPH said.
DPH said the false positive test results were discovered by DPH laboratory scientists while examining previously positive samples to determine the feasibility of testing “pooled” specimens at the state lab. Dr. Jafar Razeq, director of the state lab, said staff were looking at the “background information” of the specimens and “we realized that these specimens shouldn’t have not been reported as positive.”
As of Monday, there have been more than 48,000 positive cases statewide in Connecticut, a figure that grew by 162 since Friday. Lamont said Connecticut's positive rate is 0.6%, still among the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, the number of COVID-associated deaths increased by 10 since Friday, for a total of 4,406. Hospitalizations dropped by 12 to 54.
CONNECTICUT QUARANTINE RULES
Lamont said Connecticut is planning to require out-of-state travelers from states with high COVID-19 infection rates to fill out online travel health forms, the latest effort to beef up Connecticut's 14-day quarantine requirement. Lamont also warned there could be a $1,000 fine for violators.
Lamont said Connecticut is working with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts on the concept where people will be required to fill out the form before they land at Bradley International Airport or drive into the state, possibly from other regional airports. He said Connecticut Department of Public Health staff will be Bradley, making sure people have filled out the form, which will include information about which state the person came from, where they're staying in Connecticut and how they can be reached.
Lamont said enforcement of the quarantine requirement will evolve over time.
“But we want to send the message loud and clear, as you look at the incredible infection rates in other parts of the country,” he said. “We know that COVID came to this part of the country by airplane and we don’t want it to come by airplane again. So we’re being particularly strict about how we do that going forward.”
The state is still exempting travelers from those states with high infection rates from the 14-day quarantine if they can prove they've tested negative in the past 72 hours.