Software malfunction in public health laboratory results in over 100 false positive COVID results

K. William Boyer
Devils Lake Journal

BISMARK - The North Dakota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory has  announced they have identified a software malfunction on a piece of laboratory equipment resulting in over 100 false positive COVID results.

According to the facility, the malfunction affected 181 positive COVID-19 results that took place between Dec. 25, 2020 – Jan. 8, 2021. They have said the issue is resolved and the results will be considered inconclusive. All individuals who were tested as positive during the time have been notified of the error.

“On Friday, Jan. 8, the laboratory discovered a software issue while doing additional testing for further data analysis on another platform and there was a discrepancy in the results,” Dr. Christie Massen, Chief Laboratory Officer said. “This prompted an immediate look back which identified the same issue on previous runs.”

According to the facility, the malfunction affected 181 positive COVID-19 results that took place between Dec. 25, 2020 – Jan. 8, 2021. They have said the issue is resolved and the results will be considered inconclusive. All individuals who were tested as positive during the time have been notified of the error.

Laboratorians continue to manually review all raw data prior to the results being released, despite the software issue being resolved, DOH officials say. Laboratory staff  have also increased the frequency of routine maintenance and software verification, as a result.

“While these lab issues are rare, we are committed to transparency to the public and the individuals we serve,” Massen said. “We take these malfunctions seriously and work to identify and quickly resolve the issues.”

The DOH has analyzed over 932,000 samples since the pandemic began in March 2020.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  Follow him on Twitter, @KWBOYER_DLJ.