Weizmann Institute Says Did Not Misdiagnose Coronavirus Patients

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A testing lab for the coronavirus in Israel, April 2020.
A testing lab for the coronavirus in Israel, April 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Twenty-nine false positive coronavirus test results given to people in an assisted living facility were not from tests performed by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, the Weizmann Institute said Saturday.

On Saturday, the Zahavit assisted living facility in Ashkelon said that 29 of its residents were wrongly diagnosed based on the tests as having the coronavirus and were hospitalized because of that diagnosis at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. The center said the Weizmann Institute was responsible for the tests. 

A Health Ministry source told Haaretz that the coronavirus tests given to residents of Zahavit were performed at a laboratory at Poriya Hospital in Tiberias. The source said that it remains unclear why the tests produced false-positive results, and that the lab responsible for them have temporarily halted operation.

The Weizmann Institute also said that it is not responsible for some of the false results given to residents of the Beit Hadar geriatric facility in Ashdod. In that case, 14 residents and six staff members were mistakenly diagnosed as having the coronavirus, and some of them were hospitalized.

According to the Weizmann Institute, five of the tests from residents at Beit Hadar that were found to be positive and later were found to be negative “were examined and found to be positive by the Health Ministry, according to a criterion that defines borderline cases as positive.” The Assouta Medical Center in Tel Aviv and Barzilai Medical Center, as well as Beit Hadar, said Saturday that the Weizmann Institute was responsible for all the mistaken diagnoses given to the 14 residents and six staff members. In this case as well, it is now unclear where all the tests were done or if only some were performed at the Weizmann Institute.

The Weizmann Institute also responded to the claim by Health Ministry officials that the reason for the mistake was a lack of sterility in the lab. “This claim, which was thoroughly checked by us and by the Health Ministry, and found to be absolutely incorrect. According to the Health Ministry test report, a source of disagreement regarding those five tests is in the interpretation of the results and not in their quality,” the institute said.

Because of the mistaken results, on Saturday the Health Ministry stopped testing for the coronavirus at the Weizmann Institute. On Sunday the institute criticized the Health Ministry’s conduct and called on it to “continue to work together, in true partnership and fairness, in the national struggle against the coronavirus, for their benefit and the welfare of all residents of Israel. Evading responsibility and seeking [to place blame] should not be part of science and medicine.”

The Health Ministry responded that it is “working together with the Weizmann Institute in full cooperation for the success of the joint national mission.”

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