Lab recording error to blame for false COVID-19-linked death

  • A Hawaii state Department of Health microbiologist demonstrates the process for testing a sample for coronavirus at the department's laboratory in Pearl City, Oahu. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

HONOLULU — Hawaii mistakenly reported it had its first death from the coronavirus because a worker at the state public laboratory accidentally recorded a negative test as positive, the director of the laboratory said Wednesday.

The laboratory tested a sample on Monday after a private laboratory test generated inconclusive results for the specimen. The state laboratory test returned a negative result yet an analyst wrote it down as being positive, said Edward Desmond, the laboratory’s director. A supervisor failed to catch the error, he said. The Department of Health reported the incorrect result Monday evening.


“We’re deeply apologetic about this. And we see the seriousness of it. And we don’t want it to reflect badly on the Department of Health or the state government,” Desmond told a hearing held by the Senate’s special committee on COVID-19.

The laboratory discovered the mistake the following day after a review of the worksheet recording the test result showed a discrepancy, he said. The department then repeated the test, got a negative result again and reported the correct result.

The department’s director, Bruce Anderson, said in a statement Tuesday that officials had been focused on getting information out quickly, Anderson said.

The state laboratory has implemented an additional layer of review to catch such errors, Desmond said. The laboratory has also made all workers acutely aware of the seriousness of the issue, he said. He said he’s confident it won’t happen again.

As of Wednesday, 95 people in Hawaii have tested positive for the coronavirus — an increase of six from the day before. Most had traveled out of state or had been exposed to someone who traveled.

A total of 4,658 tests have been conducted in Hawaii to date, the department said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Meanwhile, about 40 hotels have closed or will close this week as travel to the island drops off, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Others were expected to follow suit.

Ben Rafter, the chief executive officer of OLS Hotels and Resorts, said he’s expecting at least 67 across Hawaii and 35 in Waikiki will close.

Keith Vieira, principal of KV &Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said, “My guess is that 60% to 70% of Hawaii’s hotels will be closed by this weekend.”

Vieira said the hotels are closing to do what’s best for their employees and the community. They also doing it to better prepare to reopen when it’s possible to do so, he said.

Gov. David Ige has ordered all travelers arriving in the island to quarantine themselves for 14 days, starting Thursday. He also issued a statewide stay-at-home order that took effect Wednesday.

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