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San Diego lab ‘mix-up’ led to early coronavirus patient release from isolation

Coronavirus outbreak: WHO provides update as death toll rises over 1000
Coronavirus outbreak: WHO provides update as death toll rises over 1,000.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a “mix-up” at a San Diego hospital lab led United States health officials to release a coronavirus patient back to a Marine Corps Air Station.

The infected patient was one of over 200 Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, China — the epicentre of the viral outbreak — to the U.S. military base on Wednesday, UC San Diego Public Health said Monday in a statement. They said the patient was taken to the hospital the next day after they began experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

Upon touching down from Wuhan, four patients exhibited symptoms of the disease and were admitted to the hospital, where they would undergo a 14-day quarantine and evaluation in isolation.

This Feb. 5, 2020, photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows evacuees from China arriving at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif.
This Feb. 5, 2020, photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows evacuees from China arriving at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif. Krysten I. Houk / U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via The Associated Press

“On Sunday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials informed UC San Diego Public Health that all four patients being evaluated for the coronavirus at the hospital had tested negative for the virus. The four patients were then discharged and returned to federal quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego,” the statement read.

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But the next day, UC San Diego Public Health said CDC officials told them further testing revealed one of the four patients had actually tested positive for the disease, now called COVID-19. They said the confirmed positive patient was returned to the hospital for observation and isolation, where they will remain until they are cleared by the CDC for release.

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The hospital added one additional patient from the air station was transported to UC San Diego Health Monday afternoon to determine whether they had contracted the coronavirus.

“As per CDC instruction, patients being evaluated will remain admitted until the test results are confirmed by the CDC,” they said. “Both patients are doing well and have minimal symptoms.”

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CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that the error was not due to the tests themselves, but rather the people conducting them.

“With other cases around the country that we’re evaluating, we have been doing serial tests to understand whether they’re still infectious,” she said. “In this circumstance, that’s not what happened. It turns out there was probably a mix-up and the original test wasn’t negative but there’s been a new test collected in order to understand whether the person is still symptomatic.”

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Schuchat said to date, the U.S. has 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus occurring in six different states. Of the 13 cases, she said 11 cases occurred in people who had travelled to or from Wuhan.