Israeli Lab to Stop Coronavirus Testing After Dozens Misdiagnosed

Dozens of elderly people from two different nursing homes received false positives; at least 16 were taken to coronavirus wards, where they were heavily exposed to the virus

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עמדה לביצוע בדיקות קורונה ביפו, A coronavirus testing station in Jaffa, April 16, 2020.
A coronavirus testing station in Jaffa, April 16, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

Coronavirus testing has been suspended at the Weizmann Institute of Science after nearly 50 people received false positive results. At least sixteen of them were hospitalized in coronavirus wards, dangerously exposing them to the virus for several days.

The research institute stated that the test results in question were borderline and thus determined to be positive according to protocol. Sources in the Health Ministry said samples were contaminated in the lab and repeat tests will be conducted.

Sixteen of the people were tested as part of mass screenings at a geriatric hospital in the city of Ashdod after two people there were found to be sick with COVID-19. Two staff members and fourteen patients – the majority of whom are chronically ill and intubated – tested positive for the virus and were sent to three nearby hospitals.

Dr. Tal Brosh, the head of the infectious diseases department in Assouta hospital became suspicious upon receiving nine of the patients and seeing that they were asymptomatic. “It seemed strange to me and I repeated the tests and surprisingly they were all negative. In the other hospitals – they also carried out tests and there too they were negative,” wrote Brosh in an email to colleagues.

Brosh cautioned that in another nursing home 29 people were diagnosed with the virus although asymptomatic and requested repeat tests prior to hospitalization. Upon a second test, all 29 residents and staff tested negative. The false positive results were also conducted in the Weizmann institute.

A senior health official said some of the tests conducted in the Weizmann institute will have to be repeated, hinting that the lab may have been unqualified to run coronavirus tests as their research work is fundamentally different from diagnostic work in a clinical setting.

Health Ministry sources told Haaretz that errors in testing are the price paid for mass testing among healthy populations. "It is part of the risk you take,” said a source.

Given the mistaken results, the Health Ministry is rethinking procedures for hospitalizing elderly patients who test positive for the coronavirus but are asymptomatic.

The Weizmann Institute commented that the lab operates under the supervision and sole responsibility of the Health Ministry.

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