Lost in transit: More than 400 COVID tests deemed ‘invalid,’ retesting urged

  • The line wraps around the Old Kona Airport Pavilion Jan. 5 as Big Island residents look to get tested for COVID. Some 407 individuals tested two days later on Friday by the Hawaii County-contracted TrueCare24 received a letter via email informing them tests were lost in transit. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • Zendora Franklin explains the testing procedure during Wednesday's testing at the Old Kona Airport Pavilion. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

Hundreds of people who waited hours in line for a COVID test Friday at Old Kona Airport Park learned Thursday that those tests were lost in transit.

Some 407 individuals tested on Jan. 7 by the Hawaii County-contracted TrueCare24 received the letter via email informing them of “frustrating news” about testing conducted at the county park last week.

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“The samples from that day were not delivered by our courier partner to the lab despite providing a delivery confirmation, and unfortunately the large number of samples collected that day were lost and are no longer valid … We’ve worked to ensure each site has sufficient testing supplies to continue providing you with results as you need them,” the email reads.

The message continues with an apology as well as notes of pilot shortages and the Phoenix-based lab being overwhelmed, before stating it is highly recommended that each of those 407 people retest.

Attempts to reach the San Francisco-based company via phone and email were unsuccessful as of press-time Thursday.

Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said Thursday afternoon the county had been in discussion with TrueCare24 since being notified of the invalid tests in the morning.

“We are assured and have confirmed that these are the only tests that have been designated invalid due to late delivery from the period 1/7 to 1/10 when TrueCare24 was actively testing for County COVID testing operations,” said Roth. “We are satisfied that they have worked out a solution to eliminate this reoccurrence. That said, we apologize to all affected by the inconvenience and encourage folks to get re-tested as soon as possible. Testing is our greatest asset in slowing the spread, and we appreciate everyone who has taken the time to get tested in a broader effort to keep themselves, their loved ones, and the community-at-large safe.”

Roth added the county has recently beefed up testing on the island but is concerned about the availability of test kits.

“It is not a Hawaii County thing, it’s a national thing,” he said.

TrueCare24 was awarded a one-year contract with the county to provide testing beginning Oct. 8, 2021, at a cost of $1,500 per hour plus $44 per test. The program is administered by Hawaii County Civil Defense. According to the county’s Community Testing Program online calendar, the company is currently providing testing 15 times a week at various locations around the island.

TrueCare24 was on the schedule for Wednesday’s testing at Old Kona Airport Park, the first following the blunder, however, Premier Medical confirmed it performed screening on 550 individuals.

Roth’s spokesperson Cyrus Johnasen explained that although TrueCare24 is the county’s primary vendor, if the company does not have adequate testing supplies, another vendor is called in.

While both the county and TrueCare24 advised those affected to retest immediately, the state Department of Health differed.

DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr said given the time that has passed, state health officials would not recommend that everyone retest.

“For people who tested on January 7, either due to symptoms or due to exposure, their 5-day isolation or quarantine period has already passed,” he said via email. “The most important thing anyone can do if they have COVID-19 symptoms is isolate themselves from others. Tests are important tools, but isolation will slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Baehr said those who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should follow DOH guidance for close contacts, including quarantining for five days if their vaccinations are not up to date.

“It has been six days since these people tested. Current guidance for anyone who tests positive is for them to isolate for five days or until the symptoms are gone followed by five day of wearing a mask,” he added Thursday. “Even if the test someone took on January 7 came back positive, the five day isolation period has already elapsed. As long as they do not have COVID-19 symptoms, they can leave isolation. They should continue to wear a mask around all other people through at least next Monday, ten days from their testing date.”

Ilima Choy was one of the 407 impacted persons. She waited in line for over two hours for her test on Friday and is extremely upset about the outcome.

“We were supposed to get our test results within 48-72 hours. When I didn’t get it by Monday afternoon, I did an online chat and they said we should be getting the results by tonight (Monday),” she said. “I waited and didn’t get it.”

She said she reached out to the company again Tuesday evening and was told she there was a delay and that would make the results take a little longer but should be expected soon.

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“Wednesday, when I did the next chat they told me ‘we ran into some difficulty, you will get an SMS if that’s the way you asked for reporting of results. Then Thursday morning they sent out the email. Why drag me on all the way to this morning? I waited in line for two hours. A couple of people in front of me said they needed to negative test result so they could go back to work.”

TrueCare24 testing is scheduled for today from noon to 7 p.m. at Old Kona Airport Park, according to the county’s Community Testing Program website at https://bit.ly/3tGR20j.

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