Students receive false negative COVID test results, bigger concerns arise

An undisclosed number of University of Miami students received messages on Tuesday, Feb. 23 notifying them they had tested negative for COVID-19, when in fact they had never been tested at all. This error comes as UM is unveiling a new breath-based COVID testing system at both Lakeside Village and the University Village. After half a dozen students came to The Miami Hurricane saying they were sent false negative tests, the university acknowledged the error and provided the following statement:

“A message was sent in error to some students scheduled for COVID-19 testing on Thursday. Those students have since received a follow up email on their MyUHealthChart accounts informing them of the error.”

UM was then informed that students disputed that they received a follow up email and were asked for clarification on what they meant by “testing on Thursday.” UM declined an interview once again and instead provided another statement:

“A message in MyUHealthChart was sent inadvertently to some students who had performed a COVID-19 breath test last week. Those students are receiving a follow up notification informing them of the error through MyUHealthChart.”

A screenshot of a message in a student's MyUHealthChart account informing her she was clear of COVID-19 when she didn't even get tested.
A screenshot of a message in a student's MyUHealthChart account informing her she was clear of COVID-19 even though she had never taken a test.

The students expressed frustration about the poor communication from UM.

“I would have liked an apology or something,” said Hadieh Zolfaghari, a junior studying psychology who received a false test result. She continued that she has still not received any follow up, which was corroborated by images of her MyUHealthchart.

The Miami Hurricane asked for specification on how many students got this message. UM declined to answer.

Those who received false negative tests said they were provided with little clarification about what happened and were left concerned about the reliability of the university’s testing system.

“I was concerned when they started doing the breath tests,” Zolfaghari said. Zolfaghari explained that she knows someone who has already gotten a false positive from the breathalyzer tests, and she watched someone test positive from the breath test in front of her, who was then instructed to get a nasal swab. “If it’s not as accurate, what’s the point?”

Another student who is a community assistant and interacts with students on a daily basis said she is concerned about the ramifications of having students told they were negative when they were not. The student requested anonymity because HRL does not allow their employees to talk to the press without prior permission.

“It’s terrifying,” she said. The CA works at Lakeside Village where the residents are asked to use breathalyzer tests. “I wonder about the validity of the results. I am not sure if I can trust them.”

In addition to increased skepticism of UM’s testing, the broader implications of the false negatives are unclear. UM has been increasingly aggressive with the enforcement of the daily symptom checker, with staff stationed around campus handing out wristbands for those who have completed it and stopping those who haven’t. In order to get a wristband and pass the symptom checkers, students need to have recently tested negative; if they are behind on their testing it prevents them from completing it.

The students who received the alerts were not overly frustrated, but the CA said this is a reflection of greater issues that have plagued the university’s COVID-19 response.

“The university could do a little better,” she said. “They should punish the students who actually ruin it for the rest of us, and I am stuck in doors while the rest of them run around with no consequences.”