Council hands out USED Covid testing swab kits by mistake to students

Five students are in quarantine after taking used coronavirus swab tests which were mistakenly handed out as part of a testing scheme, an undergraduate said today.

Seven households in Selly Oak, Birmingham were given the used kits as part of Birmingham City Council’s ‘drop and collect’ service on Tuesday. 

Students were ‘shocked and worried’ when they opened the boxes only to discover sealed bags inside containing used swabs.  

The council carried out an investigation overnight which found there was ‘no evidence of cross-contamination’, the BBC reports.    

Dr Justin Varney, the city’s public health director, claimed a seal had been broken on only one of the 25 kits. 

He added there was ‘no evidence that that test tube was opened so we think that the risk of contamination from the sample itself is very, very unlikely.’ 

But one student has claimed at least five used tests handed out by Birmingham City Council were used again by unsuspecting recipients.

Pictured: Students Sophie Dunne and Tasha Ashbridge, who were given used Covid-19 swab tests

RAF personnel in Selly Oak, close to the University of Birmingham, assisting with Birmingham City Council's 'Drop and Collect' coronavirus test distribution

RAF personnel in Selly Oak, close to the University of Birmingham, assisting with Birmingham City Council’s ‘Drop and Collect’ coronavirus test distribution

The kits were handed out as part of Birmingham City Council’s ‘drop and collect’ service, which is aimed at increasing testing in areas with high rates of infection.

Selly Oak sits at number 27 on the list of areas with the most positive Covid cases. 

Under the scheme, volunteers visit households to offer tests on the doorstep before returning an hour later to collect the completed kits.   

Around 100 military personnel are working with Birmingham City Council on the initiative, but it was confirmed today that they were not involved in the error. 

Second-year medical student Tasha Ashbridge, 19, who lives in Selly Oak, claimed a house of five males told her they had all attempted to use the old self-test kits.

She said: ‘People from the council came round giving out free test kits so we took five for our house.

‘They were already assembled boxes and we’ve never done it before so we didn’t realise they don’t come like that. We cut the seals to open the boxes and the bags were sealed too.

‘We all started ripping open the bags to try and get to the box inside because there weren’t any instructions inside.

‘We saw that the swabs had been snapped inside the test tubes which obviously means they’ve been done. I quickly realised they had been used.

‘My housemate went outside and stopped the guys handing them out and told them what had gone on. They turned around and started recollecting them.’ 

Ms Ashbridge claimed a boy then came up to her and said five of his housemates had used the test. ‘They are now quarantining as a result,’ she said. 

Dr Justin Varney, the city’s public health director, previously claimed a seal had only been broken on one of the 25 kits. 

Pictured: The test

Pictured: The scene in Selly Oak

Students were ‘shocked and worried’ when they opened the boxes (left) only to discover sealed bags inside containing used swabs. Pictured right: Volunteers in Selly Oak 

Seven households in Selly Oak, Birmingham were given the completed kits as part of Birmingham City Council's 'drop and collect' service on Tuesday. Pictured: RAF personnel in Selly Oak

Seven households in Selly Oak, Birmingham were given the completed kits as part of Birmingham City Council’s ‘drop and collect’ service on Tuesday. Pictured: RAF personnel in Selly Oak 

He said teams had been back out at the properties again today ‘to double-check’ no-one had been put at risk.

He added: ‘The risk of contamination from handling the boxes was also ‘very, very low.’

But Ms Ashbridge claims he is mistaken about the volume of tests being reused.

She added: ‘A group of council staff came over this morning and they apologised and gave us new kits to test ourselves, which we were slightly worried about doing but we did.

‘Justin Varney was on the radio this morning saying 25 kits had been handed out but only one of them had been opened. I have photos showing multiple kits open.

‘We are slightly confused because the council aren’t admitting the mistake. It is just a little bit chaotic and it is difficult to believe this has happened.’

Birmingham City Council has been approached for comment on the latest claims.

News of the mistake emerged on Tuesday when a Birmingham University student warned others of the error on a community Facebook page. 

She wrote: ‘Anyone on [Tiverton Road] given a Covid test by guys in high-vis jackets, don’t open! 

‘They’ve already been done – we opened up the box and they were sealed and snapped so had obviously been used!’  

Ms Ashbridge’s housemate, Sophie Dunne, also a second year medic, added: ‘This was the first at home test I had done.

‘After opening the test I could see that they had already been completed due to snapped off swabs in the test tube and sealed bag.’

Fortunately, the students made the discovery before using the kits and alerted the council workers who were handing out tests up the road.

The council carried out an investigation overnight, which found there was 'no evidence of cross-contamination

The council carried out an investigation overnight, which found there was ‘no evidence of cross-contamination

Ms Dunne revealed the workers ‘had no idea’ what had happened.

She added: ‘When I went back to them there were loads of people at their doors saying the same thing. It’s such a scary thing to happen.’

The student claims she was told by council workers that they were given the ‘seemingly new packages externally to distribute’.

She added: ‘I would have at least thought the workers would have been advised what packaging was supposed to look like in event of tampering or contamination.

‘The tests were quickly recollected but students weren’t given any info on what to do as obviously all the tests had been mixed up.’    

Birmingham is under the second tier of the three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions which came into force across England today.   

The city, which has 167.4 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, faces a crackdown on socialising between households, alongside Greater Manchester and the North East.   

The kits were handed out as part of Birmingham City Council's 'drop and collect' service, which is aimed at increasing testing in areas with high rates of infection

The kits were handed out as part of Birmingham City Council’s ‘drop and collect’ service, which is aimed at increasing testing in areas with high rates of infection

A council spokeswoman added the error involved seven houses and only the outer packaging of one kit was opened

A council spokeswoman added the error involved seven houses and only the outer packaging of one kit was opened

Official PHE figures show how Birmingham's case rate soared from 30 per 100,000 at the end of August to 78 per 100,000 in September

Official PHE figures show how Birmingham’s case rate soared from 30 per 100,000 at the end of August to 78 per 100,000 in September

Those under ‘high’ alert are prohibited from meeting people outside their household or ‘bubble’ indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.    

A council spokesperson said: ‘We are aware that a small number of tests were mistakenly given out during Drop and Collect activity in Selly Oak yesterday.

‘We want to reassure residents that none of these tests were reused and while the outer packaging on one was opened, the inner pack containing the swab remained sealed and secure so there is no risk of contamination.

‘The team was alerted within five minutes that the wrong tests had been given out and steps were taken immediately to rectify the mistake. 

‘Drop and Collect is a vital part of helping to tackle the spread of Covid in our city, with around 100,000 tests being undertaken to date.

‘The circumstances around this incident – which involved seven houses and 25 kits – is being fully reviewed and any required changes to process will be implemented.’

A university spokesperson added: ‘The safety and well-being of our staff and students is our priority.

‘The university adheres to all government and Public Health England guidance.’

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