HHS testing official warns Nevada must drop antigen testing ban


COVID-19 widespread testing is crucial to fighting the pandemic, but is there enough testing? The answer is in the positivity rates.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ top testing official said Friday Nevada’s ban on rapid coronavirus tests in nursing homes could “endanger lives” and urged state health officials to immediately reverse course.

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said Nevada would face unspecified enforcement actions if state health officials did not remove an order instructing nursing homes to discontinue use of point-of-care antigen testing machines made by two companies, Quidel and Becton, Dickinson.

HHS  “expects immediate action from Nevada to reverse its unwise, uninformed and unlawful unilateral prohibition,” Giroir said Friday in a phone call with reporters. “Lives are at stake and our administration is not going to allow actions to risk our seniors or any other vulnerable or underserved population.”

Nevada health officials did not immediately return calls or emails from USA TODAY.

On Oct. 2, Nevada officials ordered nursing homes and other long-term facilities to discontinue use of the antigen testing instruments authorized by Food and Drug Administration “until the accuracy of the tests can be better evaluated.”

 (Photo: Becton, Dickinson)

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services chief medical officer and two other high-ranking health officials cited a high rate of false positive results at eight facilities that used the antigen tests, according to a bulletin for nursing homes and health-care providers.

But Giroir said Nevada’s ban represents a misunderstanding of the role of testing machines in screening large numbers of people who might unknowingly pass the virus to others.

HHS has purchased and sent rapid antigen testing instruments to nearly 14,000 nursing homes nationwide as part of a strategy to protect vulnerable seniors. Deaths in nursing homes represent up

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Federal Official Threatens Nevada for Halting Rapid Tests in Nursing Homes

The leader of the nation’s coronavirus testing efforts condemned Nevada’s health department on Friday for ordering nursing homes to discontinue two brands of government-issued rapid coronavirus tests that the state had found to be inaccurate.

“Bottom line, the recommendations in the Nevada letter are unjustified and not scientifically valid,” Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a call with reporters on Friday. The state’s actions, he said, were “unwise, uninformed and unlawful” and could provoke unspecified swift punitive action from the federal government if not reversed.

The rapid tests, which were distributed to nursing homes around the country in August by the federal government, were supposed to address the months of delays and equipment shortages that had stymied laboratory-based tests.

“The important issue is to keep seniors safe,” Admiral Giroir said in an interview on Friday. Antigen tests, he added, were “lifesaving instruments” that had been called “godsends” by some nursing home representatives. About 40 percent of the country’s known Covid-19 deaths came from nursing homes, according to a New York Times analysis.

But Nevada officials had discovered a rash of false positives among two types of rapid tests, manufactured by Quidel and Becton, Dickinson and Company, that had been used in the state’s nursing homes. Both tests look for antigens, or bits of coronavirus proteins, and had been advertised as producing no false positives.

Among a sample of 39 positive test results collected from nursing homes across the state, 23 turned out to be false positives, the state reported. (The bulletin did not specify whether negative results from the antigen tests, of which there were thousands, had been confirmed, leaving the number of false negatives unknown.)

“I would consider that to be a significant number of false positives,” said Omai Garner, a clinical

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Trump health official blasts Nevada after state ends use of rapid coronavirus tests in nursing homes

A top official from the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday urged Nevada to reverse its decision to suspend the use of two rapid coronavirus tests in nursing homes, saying there is no “scientific reason” to justify its action.

Brett Giroir wearing a suit and tie: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ADM Brett P. Giroir testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump Administration's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 23, 2020.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ADM Brett P. Giroir testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump Administration’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 23, 2020.

Nevada health officials have ordered nursing facilities in the state to immediately suspend the use of two tests, manufactured by companies Quidel and Becton, Dickinson and Co., after the officials said the tests repeatedly delivered false positives.

Nevada officials said 23 out of 39 positive antigen test results from both Quidel and BD were later found by PCR to be negative, according to a directive issued last week. That is an error rate of about 60%, according to the document.

Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary at HHS, said Friday that false positives are a “reality” of the testing ecosystem and are to be expected. Calling the Nevada action “unjustified,” Giroir said the federal agency has sent a letter to the state threatening to take “swift action and appropriate steps” if the decision is not reversed.

This is an “unwise, uninformed and unlawful” decision, Giroir said on a call with reporters. “Nevada’s letter unilaterally prohibiting these tests is in violation of HHS’s PREP Act guidance. Under federal law, Nevada may not prohibit or effectively prohibit such testing.”

He said Nevada’s action “reflects a basic lack of knowledge” about testing and interpreting results.

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Say Yes To Accommodations, DOL Official Tells Contractors

Law360 (October 2, 2020, 6:47 PM EDT) — Companies that do business with the federal government should find ways to grant employees’ requests for disability and religious accommodations in nearly all circumstances, a U.S. Department of Labor official said Friday.

“Generally, if you’re a federal contractor, you need to be granting almost every accommodation request,” Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs director Craig Leen said. He spoke during a session on OFCCP equality initiatives at a virtual labor and employment conference hosted by New York University School of Law. Karen Gillen of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, who represents employers, moderated the discussion.

Leen said OFCCP has been scheduling employers for…

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Warrensville Heights contractor sentenced to 15 months in prison for bribing Cleveland official

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A contractor from Warrensville Heights was sentenced to 15 months in prison Tuesday for bribing a Cleveland official.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko also ordered Eric Witherspoon, 56, of Arick’s Environmental Services and Arick’s Services, to pay a $5,000 fine for bribing Rufus Taylor, the former chief of the city demolition bureau.

Witherspoon pleaded guilty to charges in September 2019 involving the payment of $3,000 in cash to Taylor for helping the contractor get on a bid list for a demolition job on Parkwood Drive in Cleveland.

That enabled Witherspoon to win a roughly $147,000 contract and a quick inspection, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors said Witherspoon paid Taylor “for non-public information about an upcoming demolition job with the city and for Taylor to use his official position to ensure that [Witherspoon] would have the opportunity to bid on that job.”

Witherspoon is the second contractor to be sentenced in the case.

Martin Fano, the former owner of ABC Construction, pleaded guilty in June 2019 to bribery-related charges involving Taylor. Fano paid $460 to Taylor to finalize paperwork more quickly and provide Fano with the necessary signed permits. Boyko fined $4,000 and placed him on probation for a year in September 2019.

Taylor worked for the city for 30 years and retired in 2018. He pleaded guilty in September 2018 to charges of extortion and bribery in a federally funded program. He admitted to taking thousands of dollars in bribes from two contractors and gave them preferential treatment for government-funded demolition and abatement projects.

The judge set his sentencing hearing for November.

Witherspoon’s attorney, Andrea Whitaker, said Taylor sought out Witherspoon.

“Based on all of the facts that we now know, it is apparent that Taylor was a rogue city official who was perhaps in need

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