Tricare, a health care program of the United States Department of Defense Military Health System, mistakenly told more than 600,000 people they have had the China-originated novel coronavirus, asking the “COVID-19 survivors” to consider donating blood for research.
In a mass email sent on July 17, more than 600,000 Tricare users in the military health system’s East Region were asked to consider donating blood for research based on their supposed status as COVID-19 “survivors,” Military.com reported last week. As noted in the report, “31,000 persons affiliated with the U.S. military have been diagnosed with the coronavirus,” showing a clear error in the mass email.
“As a survivor of COVID-19, it’s safe to donate whole blood or blood plasma, and your donation could help other COVID-19 patients,” the email stated. “Your plasma likely has antibodies (or proteins) present that might help fight the coronavirus infection. Currently, there is no cure for COVID-19. However, there is information that suggests plasma from COVID-19 survivors, like you, might help some patients recover more quickly from COVID-19.”
One beneficiary posted to Facebook about the email, highlighting that he was never tested for COVID despite being told he has had the virus by Tricare. “Just wondering [if] anybody [got] an email from Tricare saying since you are a COVID survivor, please donate your plasma.?? I have NOT been tested,” the user posted to social media, according to the report. “Just remember all those people inputting data are human and make mistakes.”
Humana Military, the company that partially manages Tricare, “issued a call to blood donors located near military installations that are collecting plasma from recovered coronavirus patients, also known as convalescent plasma, as a potential treatment for the illness,” said Military.com. However, the message was sent via email “to every beneficiary located near a collection point,” causing the error.
Hours after the significant error, Humana sent out an apology,
“In an attempt to educate beneficiaries who live close to convalescent plasma donation centers about collection opportunities, you received an email incorrectly suggesting you were a COVID-19 survivor,” the company said in a follow-up email. “You have not been identified as a COVID-19 survivor and we apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.”
Humana corporate communications lead Marvin Hill acknowledged the error in a statement to Military.com.
“As a part of an effort to educate military beneficiaries about convalescent plasma donation opportunities, Humana was asked to assist our partner, the Defense Health Agency,” Hill said. “Language used in email messages to approximately 600k beneficiaries gave the impression that we were attempting to reach only people who had tested positive for COVID-19. We quickly followed the initial email with a clear and accurate second message acknowledging this. We apologize.”
Errors by other health care entities have likewise caused confusion at times about individuals’ COVID-19 status as well as infection rates. Earlier this month, Nashville man Brock Ballou said he received at least three calls from the state regarding his apparent symptoms after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Mr. Ballou said he was never tested, however.
Two weeks ago, the Florida State Health Department confirmed that some testing laboratories in the state have not been disclosing their negative novel coronavirus testing results accurately, skewing the positivity rates dramatically. At least two labs were discovered to have inflated their positivity rates of the virus by a factor of ten.