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'Negative Result Is A Bit More In Question' — Maine CDC Responds To Coronavirus Test Accuracy

Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah says his agency is closely monitoring research showing that a new rapid test for COVID-19 is producing a high percentage of false negatives.

Shah has described the new rapid test by Abbott Labs as a key component in the state’s efforts to ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus. And Gov. Janet Mills has said more robust testing will determine when and how she might begin to relax some restrictions on physical distancing and business operations.

But Shah acknowledges that the Abbott test may yield more false negative results than desired.

“A positive result is something that we can have faith in,” he says. “A positive result on the Abbott machine suggests that the person does in fact have COVID. But a negative result is a bit more in question.”

NPR reported Tuesday that one accuracy trial by the Cleveland Clinic showed that the Abbott tests only detected the virus in 85 percent of samples, meaning its false-negative rates was roughly 15 percent — about 10 percentage points higher than health experts say it should be.

Abbott Labs told NPR that it has confidence in the test and that a potential mishandling of samples may be producing a higher rate negative tests.

Either way, Shah says Maine still plans to utilize the testing platform, particularly in congregate settings or in homeless shelters where a fast result could help health officials isolate people suspected of having COVID-19.

Shah also says that Maine CDC has asked everyone using the Abbott platform to send in batches of negative samples so they can be tested with the state’s equipment.