The White House is testing its staff for coronavirus using a device that often gives false negatives

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

  • White House staff are being tested for the coronavirus using a device made by Abbott Laboratories known for telling some people they are virus-free when they are actually positive.

  • The ID Now rapid testing system give results in 13 minutes or less — but studies have shown that it delivers false negatives.

  • The US Food and Drug Administration just alerted consumers to the potential accuracy problems and is working with the company to do more studies.

  • Abbott has conceded that false negatives can occur, but says the test works well if used with fresh samples on swabs, rather than those dissolved in liquid.

  • Some staff are still working in the White House during the outbreak, even as many test positive.

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The White House is testing its staff for coronavirus using a device made by Abbott Laboratories that has been criticized for giving false negatives.

The New York Times reported that the White House is using the ID Now rapid testing system, which can give results in less than 13 minutes.

However, a study released Tuesday by researchers at New York University found that the system missed a third of the positive samples when using nasal swabs in vials, and more than 48% when using dry nasal swabs. The report hasn't yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Another study in late April found that it was showing a false negative in around 15% of cases — a result affirmed by the director of the National Institutes of Health. Around the same time, Abbott said that the tests work properly when swabs are put directly into the device as opposed to dissolved in liquid.

On Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration said it's received no less than 15 reports of Abbott's device returning false negatives and is aware of the recent research. Abbott has agreed to run more studies and sent out a letter notifying customers that negative results needed to be confirmed with another test, the FDA said.

Abbott did not return a request for comment, but said on Twitter that the NYU results were not consistent with other studies. It pointed to a report out of Washington state that showed ID NOW picked up on 21 out of 23 coronavirus-positive samples.

"We have many questions for the NYU study authors," the company said.

Rolled out across much of the US

These warnings come after the tests have been rolled out across much of the US, and have been distributed by the federal government. The device, which is the size of a toaster, was given emergency authorization by the FDA in March.

The White House has also tested some aides using other methods, which take longer to process, the Times reported.

US President Donald Trump then called the tests "a whole new ballgame" and "highly accurate."

Some staff are still working in the White House during the outbreak, and at least a dozen people who may work near Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive for the virus in the past week.

Kevin Hassett, a senior economic adviser to Trump, said on Sunday that working from home would be safer for White House staff.

But he argued that officials are "willing to take that chance because we love our country." He also called the West Wing "relatively cramped."

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that White House staff are not being given clear instructions whether to work from home or not.

This article has been updated with results from a recent study on Abbott's testing platform, the company's response to that study, and an FDA announcement.

Read the original article on Business Insider