Negative or not? RI healthcare worker initially told wrong result on COVID-19 test

Coronavirus

LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) – Staff at the CVS rapid testing site in Lincoln told a local healthcare worker she tested negative for COVID-19. So why did state health officials call her two days later and say she was positive for the virus?  

The discrepancy first presented itself on the woman’s car windshield. After securing a time slot at the Twin River site last on Wednesday and swabbing the inside of her nose, she sat and waited in her car. About 35 minutes later, she said, her phone rang and a staff member told her she was negative for the novel coronavirus that’s infected thousands of Rhode Islanders. 

Workers at the testing site put a form letter on her windshield with the results: “You were seen today for COVID-19 Point of Care Testing and have tested negative.” 

But when the woman removed the letter from her windshield and looked at a sticker on the bottom, she saw her patient ID, the date and time, and a seemingly conflicting message: “COVID-19: Positive.” 

It was difficult to make heads or tails of which was actually correct, she said. 

“I tried reaching CVS via the number they provided on the paper and talked to a few different people with no answers,” said the woman, who spoke with Eyewitness News on the condition of anonymity. “I was feeling too ill to turn around that day to question the staff.”

She decided to reach out to another person who she knew had also been tested at the CVS site, and asked to see a picture of the paperwork they received. She discovered that person’s sticker matched their letter: “COVID-19: Negative.” 

“That’s when I knew I was misdiagnosed,” she said. “And that makes you wonder how many others were misdiagnosed and went out in the public spreading the virus unknowingly, especially since you were told you were negative.”

A spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health said they are not aware of any widespread issues with results being misreported to patients. CVS at Twin River is the only testing facility that issues results on site, while the other testing sites deliver results to patients over the phone, sometimes multiple days later. 

“It is possible that in any one of these interactions there was some confusion for a patient or two,” RIDOH spokesman Joseph Wendelken wrote in an email. “But I have not heard about any systemic issues.”

The woman was tested last Wednesday, the same day Eyewitness News learned about the discrepancy on her paperwork and flagged the problem to CVS. Eyewitness News provided CVS with her contact information, and a spokesperson for the Woonsocket-based healthcare giant said their clinical team would follow up with her.

On Friday, two days after getting her initial results, the woman received word from the R.I. Department of Health that she was indeed positive for COVID-19, and that she would have to stay out of work until April 24. (RIDOH Director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, said that anyone who tests positive, regardless of where their testing is done, will receive a call from state health officials.)

But as of Monday afternoon, five days after her test, the woman said she hadn’t yet heard back from CVS. A spokesperson said their clinical staff had been trying to contact the patient at the wrong number, and not the one provided by Eyewitness News. They called her on Monday evening, apologized for the conflicting information she received, and sent her a new paper for her records: “You were seen today for COVID-19 Point of Care Testing and have tested positive.”

Asked about the error made delivering the woman’s results, a spokesperson for CVS said, “We have processes in place at the test site requiring multiple patient identifier checks to confirm matching of test results to the accompanying information packets. Those processes are continually reviewed as we look for any opportunity to improve safety measures and ensure accurate results reporting.”

The CVS rapid testing facility in Lincoln opened on April 6 and conducts roughly 1,000 tests a day using technology that delivers results within minutes. The tests are free, but are only available to adult Rhode Islanders who are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

The woman said she understands that there is human error in all aspects of life. 

“But honestly, I knew with watching the news about 1,000 tests a day there would be errors,” she said. “Errors that could’ve been made due to too many tests, or overworked staff. Errors that could potentially spread the virus, especially if someone was told they were negative and went to a grocery store or public setting that was still open at this time, or visited family.”

Gov. Gina Raimondo and Dr. Alexander-Scott have urged everyone who is sick to stay home, even those who have tested negative for COVID-19. 

“It is a very dangerous virus,” the woman said. “I have seen firsthand in my work setting how deadly it can be, and I have experienced how sick it has made me.”

Asked on Friday about the accuracy of the tests themselves, Dr. Alexander-Scott said the state has conducted validation studies on the CVS rapid testing and found results have been consistent. She said researchers are still working nationally to determine the sensitivity and specificity of all COVID-19 testing.

“We’re learning in terms of the type of swabs that are being done, and the specimen site that it is collected from on each individual, with updated guidance as it comes out and making adjustments as we need to, to continually improve the accuracy of the tests,” she said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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