AUSTIN — The state is no longer using a laboratory that has tested 14,000 Texans for the coronavirus, after it turned up an abnormal number of positive results during state-ordered testing at nursing homes and in community surveillance.
The Health and Human Services Commission said Friday it has contacted a “small number” of affected facilities to recommend they do not act on the test results by quarantining or isolating residents.
It is also not clear whether all the lab’s test results will be thrown out from state tallies or just a portion. A spokeswoman for HHSC declined to name the lab, saying only that it was a private one.
The announcement comes in response to questions from The Dallas Morning News about tests in Scurry County in West Texas, where state-run testing found 39 people at a nursing home tested positive for COVID-19. None showed symptoms, County Judge Dan Hicks said. When the facility received the results earlier this week and tested residents again at a local hospital, all were negative, he said.
“We’re just glad that we were able to catch it early and figure out what was really going on,” Hicks said Friday. “We tested them twice, within 24 hours, and it was all negatives both times.”
There was a similar occurrence with state-collected tests at nursing homes in Eastland County, according to the Abilene Reporter-News. The samples were collected by members of the Emergency Medical Task Force and Texas National Guard, the paper reported. Nineteen people tested positive for the virus, though they showed no symptoms and are being retested.
Diagnostic tests are generally very accurate, said David Lakey, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at The University of Texas System, who used to lead the state’s public health agency. False positives could be caused by contamination in the lab, though there should be controls in place to ensure that does not happen, he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced a sweeping effort to test all nursing homes, state psychiatric hospitals and state supported living centers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Commercial labs have been doing the bulk of the COVID-19 testing in Texas, though state public health labs are also contributing.
The state is not using the suspended lab until the issue can be resolved, HHSC spokeswoman Christine Mann said in a statement. There is no information that casts doubt on the validity of test results from other laboratories, she said.
Over 1 million COVID-19 tests have been run in Texas, according to state data. More than 71,000 people have tested positive.
The state health agencies became aware of testing anomalies and when researching testing processes and examining data “detected an abnormal number of COVID-19 positives associated with a single testing laboratory,” Mann said in a statement. “To date, this laboratory has run approximately 14,000 tests from nursing facilities and community sampling efforts and there are exceptional results in a small number of facilities.”
The agency is offering additional testing to those affected, Mann said.