The Lee Health hospital system says that its lab testing of potential COVID-19 cases has shown an overall positivity rate of about 18%.
The Florida Department of Health in its daily report lists multiple laboratories throughout the state – many of them small testing sites – with 100% positivity rates, but Southwest Florida's dominant hospital system said Wednesday it is incorrect to say 100% of their labs are positive.
The Lee Health hospital system is reporting that its laboratory testing of potential COVID-19 cases has shown an overall positivity rate of about 18%, despite the state report showing that all people coming in for testing at some of its labs have the novel coronavirus.
While it seems a statistical improbability, the state's reports have shown all-negative and all-positive test results from labs since it began releasing comprehensive daily coronavirus summaries in mid-March.
The Department of Health issued a statement to Florida media blaming the labs for incorrectly reporting data:
"In recent days, the Florida Department of Health noticed that some smaller, private labs weren’t reporting negative test result data to the state. The Department immediately began working with those labs to ensure that all results were being reported in order to provide comprehensive and transparent data."
The state Department of Health started producing daily coronavirus summary reports on March 16. That first report included results from 42 labs, 29 of which either reported 100% positive or 100% negative tests.
Lee Health labs first showed up in this daily summary report on March 27, with three labs — Lee Memorial Gulf Coast, Lee Health Coconut Point and Lee Memorial Hospital — reporting a total of five tests between them, all positive.
"We are aware of a report by the Florida Department of Health that shows 100% of Lee Memorial Hospital Lab COVID-19 tests were reported as positive," Lee Health spokesman Jonathon Little said in a statement Wednesday.
"For the health and safety of our community, we have prioritized transparency throughout this pandemic. We have been accurately reporting our positive and negative test results to the Florida Department of Health, and we are working with the department to resolve this discrepancy."
Little said the state report only reflects tests done by Lee Health labs and not the results of thousands of samples taken by its mobile sites that are then sent to private labs for testing.
"Lee Health labs have processed a total of 29,557 tests. Of those, 5,351 have been positive and 24,206 have been negative, for a positivity rate of 18.1%. Yesterday, we processed 638 tests. Of those, 182 were positive and 446 were negative, for a positivity rate of 28.5%."
The state report, which appears to show cumulative data through July 13, lists Lee Memorial Hospital testing twice, with different positivity rates of 100% (of 405 tests) and 18% (of 2,410 tests taken).
It also shows 100% positivity rates for tests taken at HealthPark Medical Center (of three tests taken); Gulf Coast Medical Center (out of six tests), and 18% positivity at its Coconut Point lab (out of 1,145 tests taken).
Little said Wednesday morning that he could not explain why the actual positivity rates are not reflected clearly in the state's report. "My understanding is this is still being worked out," he said.
According to Lee Health, reporting to the state works like this: Whenever there's a COVID-19-related death in the hospital, medical staff calls the Department of Health to report it.
All positive lab reports are immediately faxed to the department, Lee Health officials say. And all positive and negative test results are electronically reported daily.
"It is done this way to enable the state to be given contact tracing as quickly as possible with every positive test," said Lee Health's chief operating officer, Scott Nygaard, in a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday.
NCH Healthcare System also took issue with the state reporting. The Florida Department of Health noted that one NCH lab had a 100% positive rate.
When asked about this, NCH spokesman Shawn McConnell said that NCH's overall positive rate is 14%. He did not say either way if the report on the individual lab was incorrect.
It's unclear how the discrepancies between the state and hospitals might affect overall state statistics on COVID-19, if at all. On Wednesday, the state counted 10,181 new cases, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases this year in Florida to 301,810.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he is trying to figure out ways to speed test results. With thousands of people being tested, labs are backed up around the country, he said. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesay.
Contributing: The Palm Beach Post. Follow Frank Gluck on Twitter: @FrankGluck
This story originally published to usatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.