The COVID Testing Company in US That Missed 96% of Cases
Anjeanette Damon (ProPublica) 17 May 2022
This story was originally published by ProPublica.
State and local officials across Nevada signed agreements with Northshore Clinical Labs, a COVID testing laboratory run by men with local political connections. There was only one problem: Its tests didn’t work.
Last winter’s sports season had just begun, and the epidemiology staff at Nevada’s second-largest health district were busy calling the parents of high school athletes who’d tested positive for COVID-19.
A state mandate required unvaccinated or traveling athletes to get tested weekly. A nasal swab for an on-site antigen test produced rapid results in 15 minutes; a second swab was sent to an out-of-state laboratory for a more sensitive PCR test. Parents of students who tested positive on the rapid tests would get phone calls from the health district.
Because families already knew about positive rapid results, the phone calls should have been a routine follow-up to start tracking anyone who had had contact with the infected person. But for some reason, parents were repeatedly disputing that their children had the virus.
“These parents were pretty adamant that their kid was not a case and that they could play,” said Heather Kerwin, epidemiology program manager for the Washoe County Health District.
A pattern emerged. Athletes would test positive on the rapid test. But before a contact tracer could call, parents would learn from the testing company that their children’s PCR tests, typically the gold standard of COVID-19 testing, were negative, even for students with symptoms. Kerwin investigated and learned the University of Nevada Reno campus was seeing similarly conflicting results.
The university and school district had something in common. Both had recently hired the same company to conduct their testing: Northshore Clinical Labs.
The Chicago-based company was aggressively pursuing government customers in Nevada. In fact, as Kerwin was learning about the inconsistent results, Washoe County Assistant Manager David Solaro was negotiating with Northshore to provide testing for public employees and local residents. Kerwin thought county officials should know there might be a problem with the company’s tests, and encouraged her contact at the school district and her boss, COVID-19 Regional Operations Chief Jim English, to alert Solaro before an agreement was finalized.
Solaro signed the agreement anyway.
“Why did this go through without a discussion of their discordant results? This is going to cause absolute mayhem,” Kerwin wrote English when she learned the agreement had been signed.
English wrote back: “I tried. No one listens to me sorry.”
Kerwin’s instincts were right. As state scientists would later verify, something “catastrophic” was wrong with Northshore’s PCR tests.
A ProPublica investigation into the company’s operations in Nevada, including a review of more than 3,000 pages of internal emails obtained through public records requests, shows the Chicago laboratory’s testing was unreliable from the start. As evidence mounted that Northshore was telling infected people that they had tested negative for the virus, government managers in Nevada ignored their own scientists’ warnings and expanded the lab’s testing beyond schools to the general public. Continue Reading…
This article was co-published with The Nevada Independent and Block Club Chicago.
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