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113 Rhode Islanders were told they had COVID-19 when they didn’t

The false positive test results earlier this month came from a private laboratory in New York

A doctor administered a coronavirus test at the state's first walk-up testing site in Providence back in April.
A doctor administered a coronavirus test at the state's first walk-up testing site in Providence back in April.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — A total of 113 Rhode Islanders were told earlier this month that their COVID-19 tests came back positive when they were actually negative, the state Department of Health reported Friday.

The false positive test results came from a private laboratory in New York that is partnering with the East Side Clinical Laboratory in Providence.

The lab was part of the Sonic Healthcare network, and none of the tests were run at the Rhode Island State Health Laboratory, Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said.

The health department and the East Side lab are contacting the people who received the false positive results and any of their contacts who were notified of the false result.

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“All Rhode Islanders who have been tested for COVID-19 should assume that their test result is accurate unless they have been contacted and directly told otherwise,” state health officials said in a statement.

The false positive results were reported between July 9 and 14. They were among 18,766 tests conducted in Rhode Island during that period.

The 113 samples were part of a larger batch that contained samples from other states, health officials said. The laboratory discovered the problem while doing quality control. It then conducted an internal investigation, concluding that “initial sample handling” caused the false positives, officials said.

The batch also included samples for another 82 Rhode Islanders whose positive results were confirmed upon retesting. Eight Rhode Islanders are being re-swabbed so new tests can be run, health officials said.

The historical numbers on the Department of Health’s coronavirus data webpage will be updated to reflect these changes.

Wendelken said that while there are variations, COVID-19 tests “generally” are accurate, and while false negatives are a little more common, false positives are “very rare.”



Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.