Nurse practitioner Tara Mahon (right) places a vial containing a patient’s nasal swab into a bag held by Dr. Deena Casiero (left) at UConn Health’s drive-through Covid-19 sampling site in Farmington, Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
Health care workers place a vial containing a nasal swab into a bag to send for COVID-19 testing on May 12 at a mobile testing site in Hartford’s North End. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

One of the 90 individuals misclassified by state health officials over the past month as COVID-19-positive died a short time later, the Department of Public Health acknowledged Thursday.

Health officials continue to probe the mishap, which likely shifted dozens of seniors to nursing home isolation areas where they risked greater exposure to the coronavirus.

Health officials did not name the individual or provide a precise date or cause of death, though it happened after the false positive test result. It also remained unclear whether this person had been receiving care in a nursing home and, if so, if they had been moved into a coronavirus isolation area.

The individual who died was receiving hospice care before being misclassified as COVID-19 positive, according to a written statement from Dr. Vivian Leung, who heads the health department’s Healthcare-Associated Infections and Anti-microbal Resistance Program.

State officials have offered few details since Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration revealed Monday that tests performed at the state Public Health Laboratory in Rocky Hill between June 15 and July 17 produced 90 false positive results for the coronavirus, and that this error wasn’t discovered until a review of data last week.

“We have notified the health care facilities for everyone who received a false positive test result from our state laboratory,” Acting Public Health Commissioner Deirdre Gifford said earlier this week. “ … Thanks to the quick action of our team at the state lab, adjustments have already been made to ensure the accuracy of future test results from this platform.”

State officials blame the test’s manufacturer, saying Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher Scientific failed to notify Connecticut that it had altered certain test procedures. A company spokesman countered that the process has been amended several times to assist overwhelmed health labs, but all changes were readily available on the company’s website.

These 90 “false positives” include: 63 nursing home residents and 21 staff members, five residents of assisted living facilities, and one hospital patient.  

Leung said Thursday that Connecticut has begun retesting the 89 remaining false positives.

Of the 39 retested to date, two have been shown to be positive, 36 negative, and one test was inclusive.

Health officials also acknowledged that some of the 90 patients could have subsequently contracted the coronavirus, recovered and then retested negative. 

The state has not indicated whether any of the 36 people who were retested and found to be negative for the disease have coronavirus antibodies in their bloodstreams.

The administration also has not indicated yet whether the four private labs that assist the state with COVID-19 tests have had issues with the Thermo Fisher Scientific test or have reported any false results.

Health officials said they hope to provide greater details on the entire “false positives” group next week.

Representatives of the state’s two nursing home associations declined to comment.

More than 48,200 Connecticut residents have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began in March, and more than 4,400 residents have died from the disease, according to state health officials. Those totals include 8,777 infections and 2,848 deaths among nursing home residents alone.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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