State delays COVID-19 stats due to major testing dump by lab

PHOTO PROVIDED BY FDOH

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Health announced Saturday evening that it would not be updating its daily coronavirus dashboard or other reports until Sunday due to a massive dump of 400,000 test results from Helix Labs.

All questions about this latest reporting snafu were directed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office instead of health department officials. 

The announcement was not broadcast on the state’s many social media accounts, but quietly posted on the Florida Department of Health’s newsroom page where press releases are archived.

The agency said the reporting delay by Helix had not affected patient notification of positive test results, only reporting to state health officials, who said they spent Saturday weeding out possible duplication in the numbers.

“The massive size of the data file and the need to de-duplicate hundreds of thousands of results prevented the Department of Health’s automatic reporting system from processing yesterday’s results as it normally does,” Saturday’s statement reads. “State epidemiologists are currently working to reconcile the data, which will take a day to finish. Therefore, the daily report will resume tomorrow.”

This data dump comes less than six weeks after a delayed report of 75,000 test results from Quest laboratories in early September, which caused DeSantis to sever the state’s testing centers’ ties with Quest after Quest failed to report test results that were up to five months old. 

Helix Labs appears to be a San Diego-based company with research facilities in Minneapolis. Helix boasts that it has a high-through-put, ultra-automated system that can process up to 100,000 coronavirus tests per day. 

The lab is able to accept what it calls “Easy, self-collected lower nasal swab with healthcare professional oversight” tests, similar to the tests offered by national drug store chains which require the patient to swab their own nose.

It is unknown which Florida testing facilities’ results are impacted. Helix lists The Mayo Clinic and Advent Health among its major partners. 

The most recent state report on Friday listed a cumulative total for Helix at 64,582 test results processed, with 11 percent of those being positive tests.

Earlier this year the lab received $33.4 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health. “These funds will support rapid scaling of our COVID-19 infrastructure and operations, with a goal of reaching 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day.”

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