A computer glitch led to incorrect COVID test results and short-lived panic for some Anchorage residents

A parking lot with a sign for covid testing
A batch of tests from the Alaska Airlines Center taken last week came back with false positive results. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

When Anchorage resident Joe Thomas opened his email on Sunday, he read a concerning message from the day before: He had tested positive for COVID-19.

Thomas was confused. He’d got a negative result from a kit he bought at a drugstore. He took that test the same day he visited the testing site at the Alaska Airlines Center. He was also fully vaccinated and received his booster shot a couple weeks earlier. But he figured his positive result from the PCR test — which is considered more accurate than at-home rapid test kits — must be correct. 

He immediately took action. He called a few friends who he may have exposed. His wife, a school teacher, made arrangements to find a substitute. Thomas said he also had to decide how and if to try to isolate at home. 

“Should I be sleeping in the guest room? Should I be wearing a mask? Should they be wearing a mask? So all that stuff had to be discussed at least,” he said. 

But then, about an hour and a half later, Thomas got another email saying he was negative. 

“It was just kind of perplexing, because then there was no reference to the previous result,” he said. 

Thomas wasn’t alone in the confusion. Capstone Clinic, the company that runs multiple COVID testing sites in Anchorage and Mat-Su, says a computer glitch led to false positive tests for 124 people. All were linked to a single computer analyzing tests from Thursday.

“It was just software and it’s been fixed. It was caught and fixed. We’ve done like, 140,000 tests. And so that’s, you know, less than 1/10 of 1%,” said Micky Boyer, director of development for Capstone.

Boyer said it’s the first time such a glitch has occurred, and he said the company immediately fixed the problem.

RELATED: Alaska reports 53 COVID-19 deaths

Thomas said he got in touch with Capstone on Monday and was assured his negative result was the correct one.

Boyer said the company also immediately notified the state of the incorrect results, and only seven of them  were reported to the state’s data system. 

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is working with  Capstone to determine which incorrect results made it into the state’s daily tally and to subtract them from the total count, according to Clinton Bennett, a department spokesperson.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Previous articleAnchorage planning director to resign next month
Next articleMajor COVID outbreak puts Savoonga into lockdown
Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

No posts to display