RI experts urge phaseout of faulty Abbott ID Now test used in Lincoln

Coronavirus

LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) – A one-in-five chance of false negative results has prompted a panel of Rhode Island experts to recommend phasing out the rapid coronavirus test used at Twin River Casino in Lincoln.

The CVS-operated site doubled the state’s testing capacity overnight when it opened in April, and has since tested more than 41,500 people, accounting for just under a quarter of the state’s total COVID-19 tests. But the test — known as Abbott ID Now — has been under widespread scrutiny after multiple studies and the FDA issued warnings that it could give false negative results.

Dr. Angela Caliendo co-chairs the state’s COVID-19 testing and validation task force, which was formed to ensure the tests used during the coronavirus pandemic are giving accurate results. She said her team pored over the literature about the test and found similar concerns about its accuracy.

“The sensitivity in some studies is as high as 90% and in others studies it’s as low as 50%, and there’s a wide range in between,” Caliendo told WPRI 12. “So the task force looked at all the data and I would say collectively our conclusion was the test is probably a sensitivity of maybe 75% in widespread use.”

In simpler terms, Caliendo explained, that means the test would give a false negative result about 20% of the time.

“The task force did make a recommendation to the Department of Health to try, if possible, to phase out using that test over the next month or so,” she said.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the department, said officials there have started to move in the direction of the task force’s recommendation, but added that there are currently no plans to completely phase out the test.

“The Abbott ID Now tests have been enormously beneficial to Rhode Island’s response ​to this pandemic,” he said. “They have allowed us to quickly identify thousands of positive cases, which meant we were able to get individuals into isolation right away, and we were able to get their contacts into quarantine right away. However, there are limitations to this test.”

“It still has a lot of value,” Wendelken added. “We just want to make sure that it is being used in the most appropriate scenarios. And certainly it would only be used when people are symptomatic.”

Of the 41,598 Abbott ID Now tests run in Rhode Island, 4,687 of them have been positive and 36,911 have been negative, giving it a positivity rate of about 11%. Wendelken points out that figure is slightly higher than the state’s overall positivity rate of 8.7%.

“So there are not concerns with significant amounts of false negatives in Rhode Island as a result of Abbott ID Now tests,” he said.

Still, health officials say it is crucial to self-isolate for 14 days if you are experiencing symptoms, regardless of your test result.

Michael DeAngelis, a spokesperson for CVS Health, said the company will continue to use the Abbott ID Now test at the Twin River site, noting that the test has emergency authorization from the FDA.  

“Any change in testing methodology would be done in coordination with the state, which is our partner at the site,” he said.

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