While the number of active cases of Covid-19 in Ulster County is trending upward, a worrisome cluster of positive test results reported on October 25 at the Woodland Pond Retirement and Assisted Living Facility in New Paltz now appears to have been a false alarm. According to Woodland Pond CEO Michelle Gramoglia, only one of the twelve residents and three employees who had initially tested positive for the coronavirus came up positive upon being retested a few days later. It was the first confirmed case of Covid at the facility since the beginning of the pandemic.
No explanation for the high number of false positives was immediately available. “While I do not want to speculate on exactly what went wrong with the lab who did the testing, I can tell you that our commissioner of health has spent a substantial amount of time with the lab director and senior state Department of Health representatives trying to prevent this type of scenario from happening again,” said Dan Torres, assistant deputy to county executive Pat Ryan. He called the possibility that the Woodland Pond residents who tested positive had simply gotten better in the brief interim before the second round of testing “extremely unlikely, given the circumstances.”
“A number of inquiries have been directed my way about the cause of the positive results that then flipped to negative,” Gramoglia said in an update posted to Facebook on October 31. “The Woodland Pond executive team is unable at this time to make a definitive statement. It is possible that the batch of testing was faulty, but we are not in the position to make that conclusion. Keeping in mind that we do have one confirmed positive case (though asymptomatic), there are a lot of factors in play. We are treating this as if this is a legitimate risk and are not changing any protocols or precautions until all necessary milestones are achieved.”
In his twice-weekly Covid-19 video update to residents last Thursday, Ryan acknowledged that the cluster of false-positive test results had skewed Ulster County’s reported infection rate, topping out at a reported 5.3 percent as of October 27. With the numbers adjusted to reflect the true situation at Woodland Pond, the new infection rate reported on October 29 for the previous 48 hours was 15 out of 1835 tests, or .82 percent. “We’re very encouraged to see that now come back under one percent,” Ryan said. “Ideally, of course, we’re aiming for zero percent; but we know, until we have a vaccine, we’ll be kind of doing this back-and-forth with the virus, and just trying to keep it contained and in check.”
Over a longer timeline, however, the infection rate rose in Ulster County in October to a level not seen since early in the summer. “We now have 259 active Covid cases. It’s ticking up, and that’s a cause for concern,” Ryan said. “We hadn’t really been above 200 cases since July.”
The county executive displayed a graph indicating that the peak number of infections, in late April, had exceeded 1000 cases in the county. The cumulative number of cases as of October 29 was 2534, with 97 fatalities.
County health officials are currently awaiting approval from the New York State Department of Health to begin deploying equipment for rapid-results testing for the virus, according to Torres.