NJ orders commercial labs to share all COVID-19 test results
New Jersey will soon know how many state residents are being tested for the novel coronavirus, under a directive issued Monday that requires commercial laboratories to provide daily reports about all tests, not just the ones that come back positive.
The directive requires nightly data on positive, negative and inconclusive test results, beginning Monday, March 23. The directive applies retroactively, so the initial report is supposed to include data on all COVID-19 tests previously performed.
Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly acknowledged “an information gap” exists because private and hospital-based labs were only required to tell the state about positive tests, not negative ones. Some states have been receiving data about negative results from private labs, but not New Jersey.
New Jersey 101.5 News reported on the information gap in a story that aired Monday morning and published online Sunday. On Monday morning, the New Jersey Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force told all licensed clinical laboratories they must start reporting all COVID-19 test results to the state.
“This centralization of data is critical for us to get testing results in real time so we can make further decisions on mitigation in real time,” Murphy said. “Again, there is that gap that exists. At one level it’s understandable. But at a certain point, it can’t go on. We need that information.”
Private labs conduct the overwhelming majority of tests in New Jersey and have been expanding their test capacity significantly. Breakdowns aren’t made public each day of the number of positive test results from the state lab versus other labs, but one day last week private labs accounted for 98% of positives.
“We think from moment one, knowing what the total denominator is, the total positives and the total negatives, is not just good for our ability to manage this challenge, but that gives I think folks in our job of trying to lessen anxiety, I think that’s a step toward lessening anxiety,” Murphy said.
As of Monday, there were 2,844 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey, as detected by state, commercial and medical center labs.
The state reported that it had 359 negative results from the state lab only but hasn't divulged any of the partial data that state epidemiologist Christina Tan says the state has already been receiving from “many our commercial laboratories.” She said the "largest volume commercial labs" have been sharing data with the state.
“We have over 60 commercial laboratories that are providing us results,” Tan said. “It’s a matter of just kind of compiling all that information and getting this in a more systemic way. That’s what we’re aiming toward, getting that more complete data at this point.”
The directive was issued by state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness director Jared Maples, who chairs the preparedness task force, in conjunction with the Department of Health.
“We are marshaling the full resources of the state of New Jersey to combat and fight this war against COVID-19,” Maples said. “As part of that effort, we’re constantly trying to sharpen our data to make informed decisions and resource decisions and allow the governor to make those as well.”
“It will allow the Department of Health and indeed the entire government of New Jersey and our citizens to make informed decisions and gain the best data possible to have resources managed, etc.,” he said.
Maples’ directive cites two state laws, the Domestic Security Preparedness Act and Emergency Health Powers Act, to compel the production of information about medical testing related to a public health emergency.
“It becomes a homeland security concern to make sure we have the full data picture,” Maples said. “… It really becomes about getting the full picture in a timely manner, in an accurate manner. That’s really the end result.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.