The Indianapolis Colts on Friday briefly joined the growing group of N.F.L. teams dealing with a potential outbreak of coronavirus cases. Except hours later, the team announced that it had been wrong: The “four individuals” who had tested positive for the virus were re-tested and found to be negative.
Hours after the Colts said they were closing their practice facility, the New England Patriots — who had just emerged from a virus-inflicted week off — also called off their Friday session after recording at least one new positive. The Patriots said the team also was waiting for the results of a follow-up test for a second player to confirm whether he, too, was positive.
The confusion in Indianapolis, though, mirrored a similar series of events last Friday involving the Jets, who closed and then quickly reopened their training facility after an initial positive result was not confirmed in a second test. But the uncertainty and disruption also cast new doubt on the reliance on rapid testing to spot, and prevent, virus outbreaks as the league plows ahead with its schedule.
The rash of false positives echoed several other incidents that have made headlines in recent months. In August, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio tested positive on a rapid test, only to confirm thrice by a laboratory test that he did not have the coronavirus. And on Oct. 2, officials in Nevada issued a statewide directive to nursing homes to halt use of two government-issued rapid tests that had produced a concerning number of false positives that could not be confirmed by more accurate tests. Under pressure from the federal government, the state reversed the order a week later.
Although faster, more convenient, and cheaper than typical laboratory tests, rapid tests for the coronavirus are far less accurate. They more often miss cases of the coronavirus, as well as mistakenly label healthy people as infected.
Still, rapid tests make up a growing contingent of the testing landscape in the United States. In September, the White House announced detailed plans to ship 150 million rapid tests manufactured by Abbott Laboratories to governors and vulnerable communities around the nation.
Much of the scrutiny on rapid tests has focused on false negatives, which can hasten the spread of disease when cases are missed. But false positives can be damaging as well, keeping employees out of workplaces and triggering unnecessary anxiety.
In some cases, people who receive false positives may even be isolated with individuals who are actually harboring the virus, raising the risk of further spread.
The news of the new Patriots’ new case came a day after two of the team’s most important players, quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, returned to practice after a stay on the team’s reserve/Covid-19 list.
Newton, who joined the Patriots this season, and Gilmore, the reigning N.F.L. defensive player of the year, are expected to return when the Patriots face the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. The team said the game, which had been…