Health and Science

Trump health official blasts Nevada after state ends use of rapid coronavirus tests in nursing homes

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ADM Brett P. Giroir testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump Administration's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 23, 2020.
Kevin Dietsch | Pool via Reuters

A top official from the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday urged Nevada to reverse its decision to suspend the use of two rapid coronavirus tests in nursing homes, saying there is no "scientific reason" to justify its action.

Nevada health officials have ordered nursing facilities in the state to immediately suspend the use of two tests, manufactured by the companies Quidel and Becton, Dickinson and Co., after the officials said the tests repeatedly delivered false positives.

Nevada officials said 23 out of 39 positive antigen test results from both Quidel and BD were later found by PCR to be negative, according to a directive issued last week. That is an error rate of about 60%, according to the document.

Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary at HHS, said Friday that false positives are a "reality" of the testing ecosystem and are to be expected. Calling the Nevada action "unjustified," Giroir said the federal agency has sent a letter to the state threatening to take "swift action and appropriate steps" if the decision is not reversed.

This is an "unwise, uninformed and unlawful" decision, Giroir said on a call with reporters. "Nevada's letter unilaterally prohibiting these tests is in violation of HHS' PREP Act guidance. Under federal law, Nevada may not prohibit or effectively prohibit such testing."

He said Nevada's action "reflects a basic lack of knowledge" about testing and interpreting results.

"Not just Covid testing but clinical testing in general," he said. "The science is on the administration's side and the administration is on the side of science."

Giroir wouldn't say what action the federal government was prepared to take, only that the government has "a number of enforcement mechanisms" at its discretion. He urged nursing homes to continue to use the tests, saying "there is no scientific reason to not comply with this."

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on Giroir's remarks.

Quidel and BD's tests can provide results in as little as 15 minutes.

The Trump administration is requiring nursing homes to routinely tests residents and staff in an attempt to detect new Covid-19 cases more quickly. The coronavirus has hit nursing homes in the U.S. especially hard, and the administration has shipped thousands of tests across the nation.

Rapid tests have been seen as essential tools to help schools and businesses reopen, but the accuracy of the tests has remained a concern since

The FDA said it had received 302 "adverse event" reports as of Sept. 30, including numerous accounts of false negative, according to Reuters.