Big Oops: 77 COVID-19 Tests on NFL Players Returned False Positives

Posted: Aug 24, 2020 4:45 PM
Big Oops: 77 COVID-19 Tests on NFL Players Returned False Positives

Source: P Photo/Steve Luciano

This week 77 players across the NFL tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus, sending waves of concern throughout the organization, the teams, their employees, and of course, their fans. The problem, however, was that all 77 of those tests turned out to be false positives

Indeed, 77 NFL players were retested after suspicion of false-positive results, and 77 tests came back negative for COVID-19. 

The testing partner of the NFL admitted culpability and said that the batch of player tests had been "contaminated." Executive Chairman of BioReference Laboratories Jon R. Cohen, M.D said in a Monday statement that the bad results were an isolated incident at a New Jersey lab and only affected the widely publicized 77 tests of the very high profile professional athletes.

"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 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."

Although not listed by name, significant numbers of players from the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland Browns, and the New England Patriots were among those that returned false positive tests. Eleven teams were part of the batch of false positives, in total. The results greatly hindered plans for pre-season practice for the Browns and rigorous sanitation and cleaning procedures were also undertaken as a result of the tests. 

With so many incorrect test results, some wondered if the greater public should be more concerned with the accuracy of their own COVID-19 test results. 

The incident echoed the recent test result of Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio who tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of a planned meeting with President Trump. That test returned a positive result, which stunned DeWine, who had no symptoms. His meeting with the president called off due to the results, he traveled home to Columbus and was retested by a different lab. The second result was negative. 

The league was said to be investigating the issue that caused the lab to return the false negatives. There is no word from the NFL about whether the incident has forced them to reconsider their partnership with BioReference Laboratories.