State backtracks on first COVID-19 death, says test results were ‘misread’

State backtracks on first COVID-19 death, says test results were ‘misread’
Hawaii state Department of Health microbiologist Mark Nagata demonstrates the process for testing a sample for coronavirus at the department's laboratory in Pearl City, Hawaii (Source: Audrey McAvoy)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an embarrassing blunder, the state Department of Health acknowledged Tuesday that test results which led to Hawaii announcing its first coronavirus-related death had been misread ― and the individual did not die of the illness.

“My condolences to the family and friends of the person who passed away and our apologies for any undue anxiety this caused,” said Dr. Bruce Anderson, the director of the state Health Department.

Late Monday night, an email from the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center indicated that an unidentified adult resident of Oahu had died on Friday from complications related to the coronavirus.

The person suffered from multiple pre-existing health conditions, the email noted.

State officials said further testing was done on Monday, and those tests ― conducted by the State Laboratories Division, not a private institution ― “confirmed COVID-19."

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But after the announcement, it was determined the initial test results had been misinterpreted. A second test for coronavirus was conducted and those results came back negative Tuesday night.

The state did not elaborate on how such a critical mistake was made, saying only that its focus was “to get information out in a timely manner.”

“I accept all responsibility for not verifying reporting procedures," Anderson said. “We’re immediately instituting measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The case was initially counted among 14 new COVID-19 cases reported across the state Tuesday, officials said.

The Health Department said earlier in the day that the number of total cases statewide had risen to 90, but did not provide new numbers after the gaffe was admitted Tuesday night.

The error comes as the state seeks broad cooperation from Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents in forgoing all but essential tasks and staying at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The governor’s shutdown order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and has triggered a host of businesses — from hotels to nail salons — to close their doors until the end of April.

Tourism to the state has ground to a halt, government services have been drastically curtailed, tens of thousands of people are working at home and public school campuses are closed.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he believes there is wide community spread of coronavirus in Hawaii and stay-at-home orders will protect the most vulnerable in the community.

The state has also instituted a mandatory, 14-day quarantine for visitors and returning residents, which is set to go into effect Thursday, and has closed parks and large venues.

“If we do a very good job of home quarantine, we can slow the spread. That is the whole game,” Green said, on Hawaii News Now Sunrise. “No politics. No nonsense. Just be safe at home.”

This story will be updated.

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