Lab says contamination caused false positives

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A lab used by the NFL for COVID-19 testing of players, coaches and other staff says that 77 false positives were returned over the weekend because of a contamination.

“On August 22, BioReference Laboratories reported an elevated number of positive COVID-19 PCR test results for NFL players and personnel at multiple clubs,” the lab’s statement said. “The NFL immediately took necessary actions to ensure the safety of the players and personnel. Our investigation indicated that these were most likely false positive results, caused by an isolated contamination during test preparation in the New Jersey laboratory. Reagents, analyzers and staff were all ruled out as possible causes and subsequent testing has indicated that the issue has been resolved. All individuals impacted have been confirmed negative and informed.”

This weekend, the NFL was able to recognize quickly that the results were false positives and respond accordingly. But questions will be raised about what would happen if another contamination happens during the season. Could games be postponed or canceled over what turn out to be false positive tests? Or what if a slew of positive tests is presumed to be another contamination, and then it turns out that the positives were identifying an actual outbreak?

These are issues the NFL needs to be ready for. But dozens of false positives are certainly a better problem to have than dozens of actual positives.

13 responses to “Lab says contamination caused false positives

  1. Young people are conditioned to blindly believe all science. But the older you get you realize everybody screws up., Doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers etc…blindly believing science is as silly as blindly believing anything else. Humans screw up. Even the scientific ones.

  2. It’s really a testament to how little is known about not only the testing but also the virus itself. Many people that call this virus overblown and miscounted are not being ignorant. They have good reason to call b.s. Numbers have been extremely exaggerated and or an out right lie.

  3. Sorry “oops“ isn’t good enough.

    Labs have procedures in place to prevent these things from happening. Sure, occasionally someone messes up and you get a false positive. After all, the tests aren’t one hundred percent accurate anyways… (that’s why you test again if the results are positive).

    But, 77 false positives? I’d find yourself a new lab. These guys aren’t trained to do their job properly.

  4. If the NFL–a major account no doubt paying top dollar–can’t get accurate tests what do you suppose your odds are as a faceless nobody in an endless sea of tests? The only reason this came to light was because the NFL was using multiple labs, doing multiple re-tests, and had centralized oversight carefully monitoring the results. A normal person has none of those things going for them.

  5. I wonder how often this happens in other labs? It was clear to see the problem here because it involved multiple NFL teams. It wouldn’t be as easy to see when doing a bunch of tests on individuals that have no relationship to each other.

  6. The wording isn’t clear — are the positives “most likely” false, or is the contamination “most likely” poor lab procedures?

    Also, some reports have said that there are as many false negatives as false positives of the virus.

    I also wouldn’t fully trust the NFL as a reliable source when it’s obviously struggling to keep the season and its profit machine moving forward in any way possible.

    Hopefully, some players will seek independant confirmation, especially those with any questionable symptoms.

    Not safe to sit six feet apart in the stands, but most definitely OK to wrap up, land in piles while breathing heavily from exertion?
    That’s treating them like gladiators fighting to the death for rich folks’ general amusement.

    I love football, but it isn’t worth risking lives and quality of life.

  7. supercharger says:
    August 24, 2020 at 9:31 am
    Young people are conditioned to blindly believe all science. But the older you get you realize everybody screws up., Doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers etc…blindly believing science is as silly as blindly believing anything else. Humans screw up. Even the scientific ones.


    Science is a self-correcting process for accumulating knowledge. While it’s not a perfect process, it’s usually the people or systems/procedures behind it that fail, not science per se.

    With these lab failures (this wasn’t the first), it often seems to be caused by trying to scale up too quickly in response to demand. That isn’t surprising given that a lot of the testing infrastructure (personnel, equipment, procedures) is either new for Covid or heavily adapted, so a lot’s being done on the fly.

    Given that, it’s foolish to expect perfection. Whereas you blame science for this, I blame the fact that society is pushing for this stuff too quickly for it to be implemented properly when it goes operational. But hey, everyone wants football now and there’s profit to be made, so here we are.

  8. Looks like they butt fumbled it. Didn’t realize Mark Sanchez was working at BioReference Laboratories.

  9. How much of this problem is due to the lab rushing to get the results back in order to keep the NFL up and running? If this lab has an agreement to get the results back to the league and each individual team within 24 hours, that’s quite a bit of work to be done in a short amount of time.

    If corners are being cut to meet the deadlines, mistakes are bound to happen. The even scarier part is if there are false positives, how many false negatives have happened? Are there asymptomatic players or coaches at practice because their tests came back negative due to the lab making a mistake?

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