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CDC Mistakenly Clears San Diego Patient With Coronavirus After Botched Test

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Questions surround the first confirmed case of novel coronavirus identified in San Diego. The unidentified patient was released from hospital isolation Sunday after the CDC indicated his tests did not show signs of the virus, but further investigation show the initial test had been mislabeled and was actually positive for the virus. The patient is now back in hospital isolation. The case came from among the 200 people evacuated from China who are being quarantined at the Marine air station at Miramar. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman spoke by Skype to some of those quarantined and he's here to tell us about this latest development. And Matt, welcome. Hey Maureen, good to be here. Is anyone at the CDC saying how exactly this mistake happened? Yes, we did get an explanation from a CDC spokesman this morning. Um, basically bear with me here. Um, the initial test result they say was mislabeled and not tested.

Speaker 1: 00:56 Now, this person was brought to UC San Diego medical center in Hillcrest. Uh, we know that they're testing all the patients that go, uh, are taken to any local hospitals. So, um, the initial test was not tested. It was mislabeled according to the CDC. So they actually had results from a different sample that came back negative, which they thought were this person's. Um, and that's what I'm ended up, um, telling them or telling UC San Diego health to release this person. They were released, they were taken back to the quarantine at MCA as Miramar. And then, um, local officials here, uh, did not know that there was anything wrong, but national CDC in Atlanta, they called them and said, Hey, wait a minute, something's wrong here. We, we messed this up. So then that person was immediately isolated in their room, uh, at MCA S Miramar and then they were taken back to the court, or excuse me, back to the isolation at UC San Diego medical center, Hillcrest.

Speaker 1: 01:42 Is there any chance this patient could have infected others when the patient was removed from hospital isolation back to Miramar quarantine? Right. There's definitely a chance. Now the CDC is saying that they have done a contact investigation and they said that they have found no high risk exposures, meaning this person didn't come within close, repeated contact with somebody. Now they say that investigation is ongoing. Uh, but they don't believe it will affect any, any of the other 230 plus people's quarantine there. Um, right now they're scheduled to be released on the 18th and the 20th, respectively. Um, that's assuming that nothing goes wrong with this. The health establishment has been trying to calm fears about novel Corona virus. And now of course we hear about this mix up. How is the CDC handling this mistake when dealing with the media? The CDC isn't giving any news conferences, nothing that would, you know, go out there, get in front of a camera, reassure the public, say, Hey, nothing is wrong here.

Speaker 1: 02:33 Now I know, me personally, I've reached out to UT San Diego health, reached out to the CDC asking them to reconsider this cause I know I'm getting questions from a lot of people on social media. People are emailing me, asking me what's going on with this? What does this mean now that this person is tested? So there's a lot of unanswered questions that we would love to get answered. The people who remain in quarantine at Miramar and several other military bases are us citizens who've been evacuated from China. You spoke with a couple of people quarantined at Miramar. What did you find out about their situation? Yeah, well there's two locations on base where they're staying. One of them is an OnBase hotel and that's where we spoke to a father and daughter, Frank Wu Sinsky and his three year old daughter, Annabel and uh, they, they were actually, um, thought to, they might have their coronavirus they were taken to Rady children's.

Speaker 1: 03:16 Uh, they ended up testing negative. They had to return back to the quarantine to finish. Um, but he says it's not, it's really not that bad. I mean, there's a playground for Annabel. There's a basketball court outside. They can walk around. They can't walk around the entire base. Obviously they're in a quarantine area, uh, but they get three meals a day. They're staying in a room that's just like a hotel, two beds, coffee maker, microwave, bathroom. Um, and he said the food could be a little bit better. Uh, we know on Sunday night they had a pineapple chicken for dinner. Um, but what's also interesting too is you're seeing not only just, I mean what life is like inside, but we're seeing like the mental toll it's taking on these people. Uh, this gentleman, Frank, he had to leave his wife, um, who's not a us citizen in China and she wasn't able to get on the evacuation flight and now he can't help, but he's has like survivor's guilt where he's thinking, you know, was it right for me to leave my wife, um, her father in law did have the coronavirus in China.

Speaker 1: 04:02 He just died on Sunday. And so he's now wondering, did I make the right decision? I left my wife at the worst point in her life. Um, kind of interesting. MCA S Miramar is offering, um, like, uh, social workers and counselors. So he's been talking to those counselors, um, also to trying to explain his three year old daughter, Annabel, she doesn't understand why her mom isn't here. And I'm kind of a really sad story is that she now is thinking that the mom doesn't want to see them. And so the dad is trying to explain to her, no, no, no, mommy wants to see you. She just can't, she can't be or she really wants to, but the daughter doesn't understand it. She's just taking it as mom doesn't want to see us and she doesn't understand why. So she's saying things now like I don't want to see mommy.

Speaker 1: 04:41 That's heartbreaking in all. How many people have shown signs of the virus while here at Miramar? Well, we know of the 230 people that have landed last week, nine people have gone to local hospitals. Um, in terms of testing for the coronavirus six negative tests, one positive test, which obviously was just saga and then two are pending. So too, we don't know whether they have it or not. Are we expecting any more people to be brought here from China to mirror Miramar quarantine? Yes. So right now there's about 230 people there. Uh, Amir Mar officials tell me that the base, they have the capacity for 350 people, so we could see some more people coming. I know the CDC said that, uh, it was unclear whether or not that'd be happening. It just sort of, um, it's like on an as needed basis. Like if they need to evacuate more people out of Wu Han, they will, obviously, that first flight, uh, had about 167 people on it. The second one, only 65. So there might not be a need, but if there is a need, yeah, we could, we, we very well may see more flights come here to Miramar. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt. Thank you. Thanks Maureen.

An error in the testing process by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led to the mistaken release of a patient infected with the coronavirus, which is now being called COVID-19, from a San Diego hospital back to a quarantine facility at MCAS Miramar.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.