CDC cites label error in mixup involving coronavirus patient

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FILE - This Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, file photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows evacuees from China arriving at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif. An evacuee from China has tested positive for the coronavirus and has been isolated at a San Diego hospital, a person with direct knowledge of the matter tells The Associated Press, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (Krysten I. Houk/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via AP, File)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A labeling error caused a woman infected with the novel coronavirus to be mistakenly released from a hospital but the oversight was noticed as she was returning to a San Diego military base where more than 200 evacuees from China are living under federal quarantine, officials said Tuesday.

Several patients who were under observation for symptoms were released from UC San Diego Medical Center on Sunday but the labeling mix-up came to authorities’ attention while they were being driven back to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, said Dr. Christopher Braden, who leads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delegation in San Diego. They were isolated on the base until the test results came back, and the woman who tested positive was sent back to the hospital.

The officials received a text as they approached the base that said it was an important message, Braden said, indicating how close the infected woman was to mixing with other evacuees.

The CDC said the error occurred after it issued a negative finding Sunday on a large batch of specimens taken from people quarantined at the base. The woman had her sample taken at the hospital, where she was being observed for a cough. The hospital released her at CDC’s direction after being told that everyone quarantined had shown negative results, when, in fact, her sample was excluded from the rest of the batch.

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.”

“It was an issue with the labeling,” Braden said at a news conference. “They have their procedures, we have our procedures. They didn’t match exactly.”

On Monday, authorities discovered that the woman tested positive for the virus, the CDC said. The hospital said the patient 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.