An East Ohio nursing facility knew something was amiss when numerous COVID tests of staff and patients came back with a positive result – and no one had any symptoms.
Mason Bigler told WTRF TV it all began when they contracted with a private lab to do their testing. Bigler is the executive director of Rolling Hills Rehabilitation and Care Center in Bridgeport.
Bigler said that they swabbed the residents and employees last week, and the lab promised results within 48 hours. But days went by, and there were no results.
Labs typically use molecular tests, which involve inserting a 6-inch long swab into the back of the nasal passage through one nostril and rotating the swab several times for 15 seconds. This process is then repeated through the other nostril. The swab is then inserted into a container and sent to a lab for testing.
A positive result indicates an active COVID-19 infection but does not rule out bacterial infections or coinfections with other viruses. However, there’s a small chance that it could be a false positive, meaning that the test is positive, but you don’t have a COVID-19 infection.
Days passed with no results, and the facility was told that there was an equipment breakdown at the lab, and the lab sent their swabs to a third-party lab across the country.
Then, said Bigler, they started getting widespread positive test results back, both of the staff and residents.
A source at the facility said 18 positives were returned in all.
Bigler said he was convinced that the results were not accurate because no one had any symptoms. Bigler then contacted Wheeling Hospital in West Virginia and they agreed to do the re-testing.
At this point, 95% of the re-test results are back, and every one of them is negative, said the administrator.
“It just spotlights how poor the testing has been,” Bigler said.
In addition to COVID testing, there are antibody tests that scan a patient’s sample for evidence of past infections. Antibody tests cannot be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection.
Recently, it was learned by The Atlantic that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several state health departments have been reporting COVID-19 diagnostic tests and antibody tests as one grand tally, rather than keeping their results separate, The Atlantic reported.
Reporting these numbers as a lump sum, rather than two distinct data points, presents several major issues.
Namely, combining the numbers could make America’s diagnostic testing capabilities and testing rates appear higher than they actually are, according to The Atlantic.
The tests serve profoundly different purposes, “positive” results from either test cannot be interpreted in the same way. Reporting all the positive results together, as one number, could skew our understanding of how many new COVID-19 cases emerge over time — a crucial metric to help control outbreaks as states begin reopening.
When told how the CDC chose to lump the results of both tests together, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute Ashish Jha told The Atlantic, “You’ve got to be kidding me … How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess.”
Combining these two signals makes the data difficult to interpret and could be misleading to the public, because the combined number does not reflect the rate of new infection (and the number of infectious people circulating) in their region, William Hanage, an epidemiology professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Atlantic. “Combining a test that is designed to detect current infection with a test that detects infection at some point in the past is just really confusing and muddies the water,” he said.