Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Reports of false positive results from COVID-19 antigen testing devices are not in “excess of expectation,” according to a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“We know with every test, including molecular tests and PCR tests, that there are false positives,” HHS Assistant Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir told reporters Friday. 

“The relative rate of false positives is going to depend on the population you test and the overall prevalence in that population, so we expect false positives on any test,” he added. 

Giroir’s comments come after reports of the COVID-19 point-of-care testing equipment supplied by the federal government to nursing homes producing false positive reports. A joint survey by the American Health Care Association and LeadingAge revealed that about 20% to 25% of skilled nursing facilities received false positive results from their equipment.

Federal officials, along with Becton Dickson Veritor and Quidel, said they were investigating. 

Giroir explained that point-of-care tests are going to be “relatively less sensitive” and “pretty specific” than others tests. He added the expectation is that there won’t be many significant false positives. 

“I want everybody to understand that false positives and false negatives are true with any test. We have to understand how the test can be employed, how it should be employed, how to interpret the results and especially with the prevalence of the population, and that’s really where we are,” he explained. 

“This is just part of testing no matter what kind of test you’re going to have that,” he added. 

The federal government completed delivery of point-of-care testing devices to all eligible nursing homes in mid-September, Giroir reported Friday. Providers received a total of 13,985 instruments and more than 4.9 million tests.