SAN DIEGO (AP) — A labeling error caused a person infected with the novel coronavirus to be mistakenly released from a hospital and returned to a San Diego military base where more than 200 evacuees from China are living under federal quarantine, officials said Tuesday.
Details about the error unfolded on a celebratory day for 195 other evacuees whose two-week quarantine ended on different California military base.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the error occurred after it issued a negative finding Sunday on a large batch of specimens tested on people quarantined at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Among those tested were three people who had been hospitalized after showing symptoms. Because their tests were ruled negative they were permitted to return to the base.
On Monday, authorities discovered that one of the three actually had tested positive for the virus, the CDC said, and that patient was sent back to a hospital and placed in isolation.
Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC said Tuesday “there was probably a mix-up” and the agency said later it will now assign a laboratory specialist to its quarantine teams to prevent incorrect labeling.
UC San Diego Medical Center officials said Tuesday that it used pseudonyms on labels to protect patient privacy and that the CDC “used different naming protocols that were not shared with our institution.”
“We have since worked closely with the CDC to protect patient privacy while ensuring that labeling matches at all facilities,” the hospital said in a statement. It said the patient in isolation was doing well with minimal symptoms.
It was the 13th known case of the virus in the United States and the first among hundreds evacuated by the U.S. government from China. They are under two-week quarantines at military bases in California, Texas and Nebraska.
A second flight from Wuhan to the San Diego base arrived Friday with 65 passengers. People on both flights were split in two groups — one living in quarters used for military personnel on short-term assignments and another at a hotel for servicemembers at their families. It was unknown which group the infected patient belonged to.
The details about the mix-up happened the same day 195 evacuees were cleared to leave March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, after clearing their final screening. None of those evacuees tested positive.
People threw their face masks into the air and hugged, said Dr. Nancy Knight of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They pose no health risk to themselves, to their families, to their places of work, to schools or their communities,” she told reporters. “There should be no concern about novel coronavirus from these 195 individuals. They have been watched more closely than anyone else in the United States.”
The group, which included U.S. consular officials and children, arrived Jan. 29 on a U.S.-chartered flight from Wuhan, China. The locked-down city of 11 million is the epicenter of the virus that has claimed more than 1,000 lives worldwide.
Most of the group released Tuesday planned to leave immediately, though some were staying one more day because of travel arrangements. They were headed to see family across the United States.
Among those leaving the base Tuesday was Consul General Jamie Fouss. He described how they had to check passengers against the manifest on the chartered plane in China, check bags and conduct health screenings before taking off for Alaska and later California.
The quarantine, he said, wasn’t as challenging as he thought it could be, adding the group stayed busy with evacuees running Zumba and art classes and activities for the children.
“Everybody felt like the quarantine was their civic duty to do what they needed to do to keep themselves and their communities safe,” he told reporters. “Today as we took off our masks and were given the clean bill of health, we all realized we had gone through this experience together, and we made good friends.”
Meanwhile, the FBI and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said they are investigating the online posting of a fake document last month asserting the novel coronavirus was detected in the city of Carson, California. The realistic-looking document had the official logos of Los Angeles County Public Health, the CDC and the World Health Organization, and has been strongly denounced by local officials.
Taxin reported from Riverside. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.