New study finds the White House's favorite COVID-19 tests have a big problem

New study finds the White House's favorite COVID-19 tests have a big problem
President Donald J. Trump displays the Abbott Laboratories 15-minute COVID-19 testing device during a coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing Monday, March 30, 2020, in the Rose Garden at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based company, has been making its presence felt in the White House with a test that is used to rapidly screen for COVID-19. But a report from New York University finds that the test might be missing almost half of COVID-19 infections.

NYU, whose report hasn’t been confirmed, found that as much as 48% of the time, Abbott’s COVID-19 test was giving false negatives and showing that people who had been infected with the virus hadn’t been infected. And this is a troubling development in light of the fact that Abbott’s test has been used for President Donald Trump and others in the White House.

Abbott, however, has disputed the study and responded that NYU researchers didn’t use the test correctly — and that the false-negative rate is really 0.02%, not around 48%. Nonetheless, the value of Abbott’s stock, according to Bloomberg News, “fell 1.8% to $92.16” per share on Wednesday.

Abbott’s COVID-19 test has been using a machine called ID Now, which has been praised for its speed — the machine has been getting people in the White House tested quickly. But NYU’s study raises concerns that ID Now sacrifices accuracy in the name of speed.

Recently, concerns about safety among members of Trump’s administration were raised when two people with White House access tested positive: Katie Miller (who is Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary and is married to Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller), and a valet for the president.

On Friday, after learning that Katie Miller had tested positive for COVID-19, Trump told congressional Republicans, “She’s a wonderful young woman, Katie. She tested very good for a long period of time — and then, all of the sudden today, she tested positive. She hasn’t come into contact with me. She’s spent some time with the vice president.”

NYC’s study raises the question: could Katie Miller have tested negative for COVID-19 before when she was really COVID-19-positive?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is part of Trump’s coronavirus task force, opted to voluntarily self-quarantine after learning that Katie Miller had been infected.

When contacted by Bloomberg News, the White House declined to comment on NYU’s study. However, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration said that it is “reviewing the information in this non-peer-reviewed study.”

“False negatives can hinder diagnosis of disease, obscure the full scope of an outbreak and raise the potential that sick people could unknowingly spread a pathogen,” Bloomberg News notes. “Doctors at hospitals around the country have reported patients testing negative sometimes multiple times before eventually testing positive.”

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