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Misplaced jail COVID tests lead to delays

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Department of Health misplaced hundreds of COVID-19 tests from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center last month – leading to a weeklong delay for jail officials worried about the virus spreading in the facility.

“It was our fault,” David Morgan, a NMDOH spokesman, said of the snafu that temporarily left 262 tests of MDC inmates and staff in the wind.

Morgan said all the test results have since been returned to MDC and the batch did not contain any positive results. So far, 356 inmates and 473 staff have been tested.

Larry Gallegos, a spokesman for the county, said 15 inmates are being retested after their results came back inconclusive. The results are pending.

Since the pandemic began, Gallegos said at least one corrections sergeant and three inmates have tested positive for the virus. He said none of the cases was contracted inside the facility and, at this time, there are no confirmed cases at MDC.

The mix-up with the tests happened after the corrections sergeant contracted the virus and DOH conducted testing at the facility May 13 and 14.

“That staff member immediately self-isolated and the testing began for the facility,” Morgan said.

Morgan said that, for some reason, the tests, which were supposed to be sent to DOH labs, ended up being diverted to TriCore Reference Laboratories.

He said TriCore “did right” by testing the samples, but the results, sent by fax, didn’t get where they needed to go and resulted in a delay.

Two weeks after the initial testing, an email sent by MDC staff to Bernalillo County commissioners said DOH reportedly was “having issues locating results.”

“We are being told that TriCore labs did not separate test results by agency, essential, priority or inmates resulting in delayed results,” the email read.

MDC Chief Greg Richardson reached out to DOH and “expressed his concerns,” according to the email, and was advised the department was “researching the matter.”

However, Morgan said the blame lies on DOH and not TriCore.

“Testing is ongoing at the facility for staff and new intakes, and, of course, anyone who is symptomatic, and our public health division is assisting as needed,” he said.

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