Northshore Clinical Labs’ PCR test was ultimately found to have missed 96% of positive COVID-19 cases on a university campus in Nevada last year, but early concerns raised by state epidemiologists went unheeded as the company aggressively pursued government customers, ProPublica reported.
When students from a Nevada school district began receiving conflicting test results from their COVID antigen and PCR tests last winter, Heather Kerwin, epidemiology program manager in Washoe County, raised red flags about a potential problem with Northshore Clinical Labs. She investigated further, and noticed a similar pattern of conflicting test results at the University of Nevada in Reno, which used the same testing company.
Kerwin notified her boss, who brought her concerns to the county’s assistant manager, David Solaro. But as the scientist warned about the accuracy of Northshore’s testing, Solaro was in the midst of negotiating with the company to provide tests to employees and local residents. He signed the deal anyway.
“Why did this go through without a discussion of their discordant results? This is going to cause absolute mayhem,” Kerwin wrote to her boss when she learned the agreement had been signed, according to emails obtained by ProPublica.
ProPublica reviewed more than 3,000 internal emails showing that Chicago-based Northshore Clinical Labs was unreliable from the start. The outlet found that Northshore used political connections, including friendships with the governor’s son, to fast-track their state laboratory license and secure deals with five government entities. Despite an investigation that found that Northshore was operating unlicensed testing sites, regulators allowed it to continue some of its testing. The company also misrepresented surveillance testing as free when it was not often covered by insurance, according to the report.
The state of Nevada has rescinded Northshore’s license. Experts say the case remains a cautionary tale for local health governments aiming to meet demand for COVID testing.