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Report questions reliability of rapid COVID-19 test in use in Michigan

Courtesy photo
City of Detroit

On Tuesday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a partnership with CVS Health to roll out rapid COVID-19 testing in Dearborn. The Abbott ID NOW™ COVID-19 test offers super-fast results, under 15 minutes.

Detroit was one of the first cities to deploy the rapid test, particularly to screen first responders and health care workers in quarantine, so healthy people could return to work. Mayor Mike Duggan suggested on Monday a deal for more machines was coming. But NPR reports some health care systems have stopped using it because of questions about its reliability.

NPR spoke to Dr. Gary Procop, who heads COVID-19 testing at the Cleveland Clinic and led a study that found ID NOWonly detected the virus samples known to contain it 85.2% of the time. That means the test would’ve missed about 15% of the samples from people who in fact had the virus.

Abbott defended the test's reliability.

The study has not been peer-reviewed yet. Still, Procop told NPR he’s confident in the results.

“ID NOW performs as expected and we have confidence in the performance of the test," (Abbott’s) statement said. Abbott said any problems with the test could stem from samples being stored in a special solution known as viral transport media before being tested, instead of being inserted directly into the ID NOW testing machine. As a result, the company recently instructed all users to only test samples put directly into the machines.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is standing by the Abbott rapid COVID-19 testing system the city’s using.

“I’m on the phone every day with national labs and national doctors and I’m totally up on every test and its accuracy, and the Abbott test the way we’re using them have been certified as good as any test in the country,” Duggan said in a briefing Friday.

STATnews reported the company is working with the FDA to “change the language of the product’s package” to the method Detroit is already using sometime this week.

Duggan puts the city’s Abbott tests accuracy at 90%. In a briefing last week, Duggan said the rapid Abbott tests are as accurate as any other tests on the market. “They’re just about four days faster,” he said.

He said Detroit is using the method that Abbott is recommending.

“The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center did tests that showed the Abbott tests are as accurate as any other test if you take the swab and you put it into the Abbott machine,” Duggan said.

But in an interview with NPR, a University of Pittsburgh pathologist says they've stopped using the 15-minute Abbott test in favor of more reliable options.

Dr. Alan Wells, a professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, told NPR he doesn’t think the false-negatives with the rapid Abbott test are because of the sample method alone.

Credit Courtesy photo / City of Detroit
City of Detroit
The Abbott ID NOW™ COVID-19 test offers super-fast results, under 15 minutes.

"It's not due to the dilution," Wells told NPR in an interview. "Our evidence is that this is not the sole cause of the lower effectiveness of the ID NOW."

But NPR reported a study by the Cleveland Clinic shows at least three other tests are more accurate than the Abbott test, including one that gets results in under an hour.

The state announced a new drive-thru site in Dearborn that’ll test 500-750 people a day using the Abbott rapid test. Pre-screening in required, but a doctor’s referral is not.

Detroit is also expected to invest in more Abbott rapid testing machines soon, according to Mayor Duggan, keeping mum on details “until our procurement department finalizes it.”

Duggan says the machines the city does have are running 18 hours a day. He hopes to use new machines to do some mobile testing too.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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