Up to 400 people with positive COVID-19 samples were mistakenly told they tested negative for the coronavirus just days before Christmas, as cases continue to surge due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The lab mistake comes as the COVID cases are skyrocketing in the U.S. and around the world during the holiday season, causing long testing lines and delays for those waiting to get their results.
On Sunday, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, issued a release notifying the patients that their coronavirus tests were falsely reported as negative by the SydPath laboratory in New South Wales. The hospital said the individuals were sent the wrong results on Christmas Day, and the mistake is believed to be due to human error.
« As soon we became aware of the issue this morning, Sydpath immediately commenced a process to contact impacted people, » the hospital said in a statement. « An emergency response team is now investigating the cause of this mistake, which is believed to be human error. »
SydPath medical director Anthony Dodds told local media the issue was due to a large volume of tests that the lab was working to process in the days leading up to the holiday.
« Owing to the very large volume of tests that we’ve been contending with at SydPath, last night we incorrectly messaged 400 patients who had been swabbed at our centres from December 22 and December 23 advising them they had tested negative to COVID-19, » Dobbs said Sunday, according to Nine News.
New South Wales is the most populated state in Australia, and the false negatives come amid a rapid surge in cases for the region. On Christmas Day, the region broke its record for new daily cases since the pandemic began, with more than 6,000 people testing positive for the coronavirus.
The surge in cases comes amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. In the U.S. and elsewhere, Omicron has surpassed Delta to become the dominant coronavirus variant. It’s caused a surge in cases that has surpassed the latest wave of Delta infections, according to the New York Times. The U.S. is now reporting an average of more than 200,000 cases a day, but some health-care experts have warned that number could soon reach as high as 1 million.
As both cases and testing rates surge, experts have warned individuals to continue exercising caution even when given a negative COVID-19 test result.
Dr. Peter Juni, director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, said people should be careful as they gather for the holiday season because the Omicron variant has proven to be « very dynamic. »
« We know from Omicron now, a rapid test [result] that is negative, three or four hours later could become positive but nobody knows, » he told Canadian news outlet CTV. Other experts have told Newsweek that testing results can very depending on whether you are showing symptoms at the time.
Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine for Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told Newsweek that it would be beneficial for those planning on gathering with family or friends to get tested multiple times to ensure they are not infected and spreading the virus.
« Most of us think that repeated testing improves the performance of the test, » she said. « Test the day before a gathering and the morning of the gathering. Having sequential negatives is better than one alone. »