Thousands of people in Mecklenburg County , N.C., received text messages on Friday telling them that they had tested positive for the novel coronavirus — a false alarm that officials are now blaming on a “technical glitch.”
Roughly 6,700 people received the erroneous text messages, the Charlotte Observer reported, while more than 500 were sent a similar message by email. It’s unclear how many of them — if any — had actually tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days. According to internal emails obtained by the paper, the notifications were sent out by HealthSpace Data Systems, whose contact tracing software is used by the county to investigate outbreaks. Those receiving the alerts had profiles in the system, which could indicate that they previously had tested positive or had potentially been exposed to the virus.
Mecklenburg County, which includes the city of Charlotte, does not notify people about their test results by text message. Officials initially claimed that the notifications were a scam. Hours later, however, the county backtracked and said that the messages were erroneously sent out “due to a technical glitch in the software system that has been addressed by the software provider.”
“We apologize for any alarm this caused citizens who were not supposed to be sent an alert or survey,” HealthSpace CEO Silas Garrison told the Observer.
For some North Carolinians, the early-morning text messages led to a brief moment of panic. “When I saw it, my first thought was uh-oh,” Andrew Byrd, who was hospitalized for covid-19 for several weeks in April, told WBTV. After learning that it was an error, his confidence in the system remained shaken.
“I thought to myself if I’m getting this text, does that mean I’m now counted in the daily positive numbers of tests? Not just the test but the positive results? It gives me a lot of concern,” he said.