AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin family said after months of planning and saving, they had to cancel their Bahamas trip because of a positive COVID-19 test which later turned out to be a false positive.

Michael Perez and Lima Morales said they got PCR tested for COVID-19 at the Austin Regional Clinic in Round Rock to ensure their family was not carrying the virus asymptomatically before getting on a plane. At the time, the Bahamas also required a negative test within 72 hours to enter the country. That rule has since been lifted.

Perez and the couple’s two young daughters both had negative results, but Morales’ test came back positive. Morales said she called the clinic to ask if she should get retested and a nurse told her PCR tests are the most accurate, and that she had COVID-19.

“I was devastated,” Morales said. “I was just kept thinking about my little girls. I’m like, ‘oh, no, they were so excited.'”

An Austin couple said they had to cancel their trip to the Bahamas after getting a positive COVID-19 which later turned out to be a false positive
An Austin couple said they had to cancel their trip to the Bahamas after getting a positive COVID-19 which later turned out to be a false positive (KXAN photo)

A couple of days later, after the family canceled their first trip out of the country since the pandemic started, the clinic called back and said the test result was inaccurate and that Morales was actually negative, the family told KXAN.

An Austin Regional Clinic spokesperson told KXAN they “discovered an issue with a small number of COVID-19 test samples” at their Round Rock lab in May. The spokesperson said one person received a false positive on their COVID-19 test.

“We discovered the issue in time to notify the few impacted patients and invite them to return to the clinic within 24 hours to re-collect their samples and provide accurate test results,” the spokesperson said.

ARC said it “heightened” its quality controls to limit the amount of false positive results.

“As a result of that experience, we heightened our quality controls in all of our labs beyond what is required in COVID testing to minimize the occurrence of false positives. If we receive a borderline positive result, we retest it. If the second test shows the same result, we ask the patient to come back and get retested at no extra charge,” the spokesperson said.

KXAN was provided medical records from the family which show the test result was “corrected” from positive to negative. The records show the false positive test was due to a “lab error” but does not elaborate.

The family said they followed up with the clinic and asked to be reimbursed for the trip and after back and forth for several months, the family said they’re not expecting to get any money back. To rebook the trip now, it’s going to cost roughly $6,000 more, they said. They reached out to KXAN now to warn others about the possibility of getting a false positive test.

“We were ready to take our girls, for the first time, to the beach and we wanted to make it a magical experience and to find out that we got robbed of that was really upsetting,” Perez said.

“Mistakes can be made. In our case, they were made.”

A spokesperson for Austin Public Health said it’s “rare that a false positive PCR is reported to us” and pointed to the CDC’s information on what factors can impact a test. Health leaders, like the ones at UC Health, also say false positive PCR tests are very rare.