A Hawaii mother of three small children was shocked over the weekend to find a package believed to contain hundreds of COVID-19 test samples mistakenly delivered by FedEx to her home on Oahu from Methuen, Mass., according to the woman and two companies.
Meagan Melum was at home Saturday around 2:30 p.m. when she saw a FedEx driver throw a cardboard box over the gate outside her home in Pupukea, a small community on the island’s north shore. Initially, she assumed it was another gift for under the tree, she said.
“I’ve been getting so many boxes for Christmas presents for my kids,” Melum, who turned 38 Tuesday, said in a phone interview. “I brought it inside my house like I always do.”
When she later opened the box, she felt “incredibly disturbed, scared, shocked” to find a ripped plastic envelope containing “hundreds of biohazard bags,” she said.
“When I first opened it … I screamed for my husband, and I ran outside with the box to get it away from my family and our house,” Melum said. “I didn’t know if it was COVID-related at all; I just saw ‘biohazard’ and thought, ‘OK, it could be something.’ "
The package of samples originated with LabElite, which is operating a free COVID-19 sampling program in Methuen, and FedEx was supposed to deliver it to the company’s processing lab in Chicago, according to Ahmad Hussain, a LabElite official in Methuen.
“We’ve been shipping samples for the past two months that we’ve been opened through [FedEx] and they for some reason, misplaced this specific item,” he told the Globe Wednesday. “We’ve been fine all throughout this pandemic. And then this one time I guess it got misplaced.”
Melum provided the Globe with a photo of the shipping label on the box and it confirms Hussain’s account that the package was addressed to the company’s lab in Chicago, not a private home 4,000 miles away.
“This is a process that we follow every single day, and it works out every single day,’’ Hussain said. “This was on FedEx, FedEx and their logistical system misplacing a package. Our employees are well trained, you know, like they know they know where to drop packages off.”
FedEx acknowledged its responsibility in a statement Tuesday, saying it was “completely unacceptable and contrary to our commitment to treat our customers’ packages each day with the utmost care.”
“We have retrieved the shipment in question and are working directly with the customers involved to rectify this situation,” FedEx said. “In addition, we immediately launched an investigation into what happened and will take appropriate steps to address this matter.”
Melum and her husband have children ages 8, 7, and 5, and the whole family is vaccinated for COVID-19, but her youngest son has asthma and is at increased risk of complications should he become infected, she said.
Melum’s name was not on the package, but it had her address written in by hand, she said. The vials inside contained the full names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers for those being tested, “everything someone doesn’t want a stranger to have,” she said.
Her husband called FedEx to request that the package be picked up, and “we got passed around on the phone from FedEx customer service for over an hour,” Melum said.
She called Honolulu police, who came quickly to the home and advised Melum and her husband to keep their children away from the package, she said. Other emergency responders arrived later in the afternoon, but “no one wanted custody of this box and the contents of it,” Melum said.
Honolulu police did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the case, which was first reported by KHON-TV.
FedEx called Melum back early Monday morning and picked up the package a short time later, she said, expressing frustration that she was left with the package at her home for much of the weekend while she waited for someone to take responsibility for it.
“I just wish that there was an emergency line to call. No one took it seriously,” she said. “And today, with COVID spiking even more, going up in our area, it was really, really, really scary.”
State public health officials said they were reviewing information about the incident provided by the Globe. A Methuen public health official was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.