Some states raising doubts about federal tests sent to nursing homes, citing shaky reliability

Several states have curtailed using coronavirus testing equipment in nursing homes that was provided by the Trump Administration after concerns were raised about the results, including false positives that risk mistakenly sending vulnerable seniors into special COVID isolation wings that could ultimately expose them to the virus.

Since July, the administration had been rushing out the machines from manufacturers Becton, Dickinson and Company and Quidel to more than 14,000 facilities around the country in an attempt to identify outbreaks faster and stem the tide of the virus, which has taken a particular toll on the elderly, especially those in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.

“We have a real crisis around testing,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “We don’t have the capacity to supply every facility with … the more reliable and accurate tests and the tests we do have are not accurate and unreliable.”

The machines process cheaper-to-produce kits known as antigen tests — which can yield results in 15 minutes. While other diagnostic tests for COVID-19 like PCR tests look for genetic material from the virus, antigen tests look for molecules on the surface of the virus, diagnosing an active coronavirus infection faster than molecular tests.

Although they are not perfect, many experts view these tests as an important component in the effort to fight COVID-19. The rapid turnaround time means they can be used in bulk to screen dozens of people in quick succession, with any potentially positive cases later confirmed with a more accurate PCR test. These are the tests, for instance, that the White House requires everyone to take before they enter the complex.

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