Errors during the COVID-19 testing process have been uncovered, Eastern Health and the province's Department of Health announced Wednesday, resulting in the identification of two more positive cases, as well as revealing a positive case from this past weekend was actually negative.
The two new cases had gone unidentified for several days until an investigation at the province's public health laboratory in St. John's took a closer look into the testing examination process, a move sparked by the inquiry into a positive case announced Sunday, involving a woman in Western Newfoundland.
That woman's test result was in fact negative, Eastern Health announced in a press release Wednesday afternoon, and its misidentification was the result of a "data manipulation error" in the laboratory.
Two data files weren't matched correctly, generating the wrong report, Eastern Health said. The health authority said it has taken steps, such as modifying the laboratory's workflow, to prevent that from happening again. It has also flagged the software vendor so they can also take preventative measures.
"It's not an issue with testing, or the quality of our testing, it's a reporting process issue and we've got a scenario where in the equipment that we use the testing system has two databases," David Diamond, president and CEO of Eastern Health, told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
"One of the pieces of the process is to merge those databases, and it's in that collation of that information where an error was made. A human error was made in that process."
Diamond said Wednesday's announced positive cases were initially misidentified by the same error, adding the initial test — which returned positive — was done correctly.
The new cases involve a man and a woman in the Central Health region, both between 60 and 69 years old.
The cases are travel-related, with both residents of the province who had returned from Alberta. The health department said they are members of the same household and have been self-isolating since arrival.
"We know that as a result of the error people have been very inconvenienced likely. People who thought they were positive, families who thought they had a positive case in their midst and even communities who were worried about the risk, we really apologize for all of those implications," said Diamond.
"We've got some additional manual steps now in our process to ensure that sort of issue, merging wrong files and then having a report that's not as accurate as it needs to be, won't happen in the future."
Diamond said he's confident the three reported errors are the only ones of their type in the province since the pandemic began. To be safe, said Diamond, the laboratory team will go back through all of its data to ensure other cases have not been misidentified.
Flight advisory issued
Contact tracing by public health officials for the Central Health cases is completed, with anyone considered a close contact having been advised to quarantine.
The Department of Health is asking anyone who travelled on Air Canada Flight 7484 from Toronto to Deer Lake, arriving on Nov. 6 to call 811 to arrange for COVID-19 testing.
The investigation clears up questions that lingered for days after the Western Health case was announced, with no clear idea of how the woman, between the ages of 20 and 39, had contracted the virus. There has been no known cases of COVID-19 linked to community transmission in the province since May.
In the statement, Eastern Health apologized to the patients who initially received inaccurate results, as well as people who were unnecessarily tested.
The province has seven active cases with 287 people having recovered. To date, 55,586 people have been tested — 350 of those came in the last day.
The province's total caseload now stands 298.