ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Maryland’s acting health secretary said the state’s purchase of 500,000 COVID-19 tests from a South Korean lab earlier this year is being audited following a report the tests were flawed.

Last month, The Washington Post reported the first batch of tests, for which the state paid nearly $9.5 million, were never used and instead replaced at an additional cost of $2.5 million.

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The purchase was partially negotiated by First Lady Yumi Hogan, a South Korean native.

During a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, acting health secretary Dennis Schrader said around 3,500 tests from the first batch were used but called them slow and clunky.

Comptroller Peter Franchot had pointed questions about the tests directed to Schrader, who confirmed there is an audit underway.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be clarified,“ Franchot said. He noted that health department officials could not account for some “irregularities.”

The acting health secretary believes an additional $2.5 million was money well spent on the second batch of replacement tests. He said the company demanded the extra money from the state—with Maryland “under pressure” to provide testing in the state.

Schrader said the seller from South Korea “was not willing to just replace the tests” without an added payment.

He said the second batch has worked without issue and 430,000 of those 500,000 tests have already been used.

 

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In late spring, officials asked the state public health lab to review the first batch to determine what led to the issues. That lab later determined the state had gotten an early formula that was no longer what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had on its website.

In mid-May, weeks after the state got the tests, the South Korean lab, LabGenomics, said it had an updated formula to use.

The tests’ manufacturer then took back the remaining tests. Still, the company felt it should be compensated for the new tests and would not simply replace the tests. Schrader, who took over as acting secretary this week, said the state felt it would be valuable to have them “because of the crisis we were in.”

“There was a sense at the time that the $2.5 million would be valuable to get the tests here,” he said.

The new tests have been used for community testing and within state agencies, he added. Around 430,000 of the 500,000 have been used.

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Last Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan said the Post’s story was basically a regurgitation of other stories circulating around in the last six months and was not news.

“We’ve not had a single problem with one single LabGenomics test kit,” he said.

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Following the Post’s report, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis released a statement calling the state’s acquisition of the tests a “botched publicity stunt.”