CORONAVIRUS

Over 230 in Linn County told they were positive for COVID-19, but they weren't

Lab cites coding error for bad report, but says tests were correct

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Research into the link be
This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Research into the link between high blood pressure and COVID-19 is ongoing. (NIAID/TNS)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Based on bad information it received, Linn County Public Health notified scores of people they had tested positive for COVID-19 when they actually hadn’t.

The county has since sent letters to 235 Linn County residents who all had their test specimens analyzed at Weland Clinical Laboratories, according to Tricia Kitzmann, community health division manager for the county agency.

“The error came to our attention when we contacted individuals for follow-up as part of COVID-19 case investigation and the individuals reported receiving a negative test result from their provider,” Kitzmann told The Gazette. “The error occurred in the laboratory reporting process to public health, not in the processing of the specimens.”

The letter from the department said that on Nov. 23, Linn County Public Health was notified of incorrect lab results for tests collected between Nov. 14 and 16 due to an error in the lab’s reporting process.

“Unfortunately, this error has caused confusion and frustration for individuals,” the letter reads. “Please disregard the previous instructions to isolate and to direct close contacts to quarantine. We are sorry for any inconvenience that you or your family faced due to receiving the incorrect communication.”

In a statement provided to The Gazette, Weland Clinical Laboratories, with headquarters in Cedar Rapids, said the test results were correct — but the results reported to public health officials were not.

In November, the lab used an incorrect code in reporting some of its COVID-19 test results to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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“In all of these instances, the correct result was given to the ordering provider,” the statement signed by Medical Director Michele Cooley reads. “Ordering providers always had the correct results to make patient care decisions. Reporting to IDPH is a separate process from reporting to the patient’s ordering provider.”

While the lab reports results as positive or negative in its own information system, the state Public Health Department system requires that the positive or negative results be entered as a nine-digit number.

“During this conversion, the code for a positive result was inadvertently entered through the entire data set,” the lab’s statement reads.

The statement said affected patients were primarily in Linn County, but a “small number” were in 13 other Eastern Iowa counties as well.

The private lab does not perform tests for the Test Iowa Initiative or for any public entities.

“We worked with the Iowa Department of Public Health to submit correct reports the next day,” the lab’s statement reads. The statement also adds that the lab has implemented additional “double checks of the data with multiple people reviewing before the report is sent to IDPH to prevent a recurrence.”

“We sincerely apologize to our patients, providers and public health colleagues for the confusion,” the statement reads.

Comments: (319) 398-8255; gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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