Just five days into a federally funded COVID-19 surge testing program on Oahu, about 1,000 people from the Kaneohe testing site have been told they have to retake the test due to mislabeling.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Gov. David Ige and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams announced Tuesday that 5,000 free tests a day — up to 60,000 over the next two weeks — would be offered to Oahu residents.
The idea behind the federally funded surge testing program is to help officials in high-risk communities identify where the virus is so they can take steps to bring down positivity rates and ease hospitalizations.
City spokesman Alexander Zannes said Sunday the Honolulu Fire Department did not receive proper guidance from eTrueNorth, a Texas-based company, which led to test tubes at the Kaneohe testing site not being labeled.
“The Leeward Community College location was labeled per guidance by someone who had past experience with PCR testing. Kaneohe location was not made aware of this and did not label. The correct process was given after the fact,” Zannes said in an email.
Zannes said Caldwell has made a request to Adams and eTrueNorth to allow the Kaneohe tests since the individual’s personal information is included in the kit, even if it wasn’t on the test tube.
“The surgeon general is currently working on this,” he said.
Zannes said since the problem was discovered, the city has ensured that the first initial, last name, and date of birth have been put on test tubes at subsequent locations.
So far Zannes said 31,452 vouchers have been generated for the testing program.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it remains to be seen if the mislabeled tests will still be counted.
“It probably would have been better if the mayor had gotten on the same page with the surgeon general from the get-go so that these tests weren’t wasted,” Green said. “I’m hearing that federal regulations may mean that those tests can’t be used.”
Although some Oahu residents have praised surge testing program operations, others have complained about unorganized test sites, long waits and heavy traffic.
On Wednesday, the first day of testing, some people were turned away when the officials had to shut down the Kaneohe District Park site for 30 to 45 minutes to reduce traffic and gridlock after miles of vehicles lined up.
Mia Palmieri Heck, director of external affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email Sunday that HHS has conducted surge testing in eight states, none of which have had mislabeling issues similar to those that happened in Honolulu.
Heck said the lab validates each specimen by looking at the patient information on the voucher and matching it with the patient information on the vial.
“Since there was no patient information on (about 1,000) vials, the lab had to send each patient a notice that they had an inconclusive result. All impacted individuals were informed to retest,” she said. “There were an additional 500 vials that had some patient identifiers on the vials and the lab was able to match that information with the information on the voucher and processed those specimens.”
Green urged the mayor’s team to expedite new testing, that doesn’t require long waits, for anyone that was part of the mislabeled batch.
As of Saturday, Heck said 2,451 individuals who had been surge tested in Honolulu had received their results. Of those, 27 — or just over 1% — had come back positive and 2,424 negative she said.
However, Green said that “some people did report that they had received positive test results but had not yet been tested — I would call that the ultimate false positive.”
Meanwhile, Green said Ige has requested 30,000 extra surge tests to follow the first 60,000.
“I hope that this doesn’t erode confidence in the testing program. We do need to have more testing and tracing in our state,” he said. “I think we need to be testing 10,000 people a day.”