By Andreas Yilma and Paul Hughes, Staff
NAUGATUCK — Four days after being admitted to Glendale Center for short-term rehabilitation, Joe Spinella tested positive for COVID-19 — or so health officials thought.
It turned out that the test that showed the 83-year-old Thomaston resident had the coronavirus was among the false positive tests the State Public Health Laboratory processed from June 15 to July 17.
“It was devastating,” said Joe’s wife, Rita Spinella, 79. “We were so happy when we found out he didn’t have it.”
The Department of Public Health reported July 20 that a testing flaw discovered at the Public Health Lab in Rocky Hill led to 90 false positive tests out of 144 people tested. The Public Health Lab uncovered the flaw July 15.
Rita Spinella said she took her husband to Saint Mary’s Hospital June 26 because he was experiencing weakness in his legs. Physicians at the hospital recommended he rehab at Glendale. He was admitted to Glendale on June 29, she said, and tested positive for the coronavirus July 3.
The next day, Rita Spinella said her husband was moved to a COVID-19 unit at the Quinnipiac Valley Center in Wallingford.
“We (the Spinella family) were angry,” Rita Spinella said. “We were deprived from seeing him.”
Rita Spinella said family members were not able to see him in Wallingford through a window because his room was on the second floor. He was scheduled to stay for only two weeks, but was kept longer due a potential fever and a cough, she said. She said his temperature was 99 degrees and the cough is usual for him.
Rita Spinella said Joe was released July 23 and is back home to continue rehab.
Due to HIPAA privacy laws, Glendale officials declined to commit on a specific resident.
Glendale Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Feifer said two residents and two staff members falsely tested positive for COVID-19. He said one of the two residents was transferred to a COVID-positive unit at Quinnipiac Valley Center.
“We are deeply concerned that the state lab could make such an error regarding our residents,” Feifer said. “One resident had already been COVID positive and recovered. We were concerned that the resident tested positive again, and were consulting with epidemiologists and the CDC about the possibility that the resident may have been re-infected.”
The two staff members were kept from being at Glendale after testing positive, Feifer said.
They recently returned to work, Genesis Health Care spokesperson Lori Mayer said. All staff and residents will be monitored every two weeks for COVID-19, she added.
Manufacturer Thermo Fisher Scientific and the federal Food and Drug Administration were notified after the testing flaw was discovered. Many of the persons with false positive test results are nursing home residents.
The number of false positive tests could be higher than the 90 that the Department of Public Health reported because it was not known how many other testing labs in Connecticut used the same diagnostic test.
DPH officials were inquiring if other testing labs in Connecticut used the Thermo Fisher Scientific testing system, and if they discovered any false positive results, too.
Acting Public Health Commissioner Diedre S. Gifford stressed last week that anybody who received a positive test for COVID-19 should assume that result is correct unless a medical provider informs them otherwise.
Gifford and Josh Geballe, chief operating officer of the Lamont administration, said the Public Health Lab processed approximately 2,200 of the 273,540 diagnostic tests that were reported between June 15 and July 17. Gifford declined to estimate how many false test results may have resulted from the flawed Thermo Fisher Scientific test beyond what the DPH reported.
“I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about numbers because that would not be appropriate, but we are talking to partner labs in this state of Connecticut. We want to understand the potential here,” she said.