Coronavirus testing error at St. Paul nursing home called 'disaster' by state officials

Monday, around 50 members of the Minnesota National Guard administered around 300 Coronavirus tests at Episcopal Church Home in St. Paul, but due to errors, all of the tests had to be thrown out.

The testing is part of Governor Tim Walz’s five-point plan to protect long term care residents from COVID-19. One of the goals in that plan is to administer Coronavirus tests to all residents and staff at Minnesota nursing homes. Last week the governor asked the National Guard to assist with the testing.

The CEO of Episcopal Church Home, Marvin Plakut said Guard members who administered the tests to around 100 residents and 200 staff on Monday did not have the proper swabs. He said they were given oral swabs, which are bigger than nasal swabs, making the testing process more uncomfortable.

The day after the tests were administered he received phone call notifying him that the approximately 300 tests from his facility were not kept cool while being transported to the lab at Mayo Clinic, rendering all of the useless.

“It was very unfortunate that the national guard were not given the complete instructions on how to handle this,” Plakut said.

A spokesperson for the National Guard said all inquiries about the incident should be directed to the Minnesota Department of Health, who is in charge of administering the tests. MDH directed inquiries to the State Emergency Operations Center who shared with us an email Dr. John Hicks, manager of the State Healthcare Coordination Center sent to Episcopal Church Home following Monday’s incident.

In the email Dr. Hicks referred to Monday’s testing as a “disaster.” He said he was “heartsick” to hear about the error saying “I just want to first offer our deepest apologies for the mis-step that occurred.”

The email goes on to say he and his team are working with MDH “to assure that our [National Guard] personnel, our MDH liaisons, and the labs involved have a handout and clear expectations of the sample packaging requirements.”

Plakut also shared an email with Fox9 he received from MDH Commissioner Jan Malcom apologizing for the error saying she is working to make sure there is better training, coordination and communication to ensure similar errors don’t happen in the future.

“We can’t undo the past and I’m just glad that Commissioner Malcom has explained the steps she’s taking to make sure this is corrected and that this doesn’t happen again,” Plakut said. “We wish it hadn’t happened but a the same time we understand. Mistakes do happen.”

Plakut said he has been informed that his staff and residents will be tested again. He has not received a specific date for when that will happen.

A statement from a spokesperson at MDH says:

The Minnesota State Lab Partnership acknowledges that there was an isolated incident related to the packaging and shipment of specimens to one of the testing sites. Ensuring the temperature integrity of specimens is critical to testing. We are accelerating and strengthening our training program to ensure all specimen collections, packaging, and shipping are performed to the highest standards.