FactCheck Social Media

Claim that “COVID-19 test has the virus” misleads on an early US kit fault that was found and fixed

2020-07-22 14:29:22

The Statement

An Instagram post is claiming Covid-19 tests tainted with coronavirus have been in circulation for “many months”.

The post by an account called “friends of truth” features medical imagery of a man undergoing a nasal swab underneath the headline stating “Covid-19 test HAS the virus.”

A quote on the post reads “the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent states tainted lab test kits in nearly February that were themselves seeded with the virus, federal officials have confirmed.”

The July 2 post has been viewed more than 280,000 times.

Instagram post screenshot
 An Instagram post uses a selectively edited excerpt from an article about faulty COVID-19 test kits. 

The Analysis

One of the initial batches of testing kits developed by US health authorities were faulty but any suggestion this set of kits can or did infect patients with the virus is false. The quote in the post has been selectively edited to omit the following line which states: “the contamination did not spread the virus to people”.

After news broke in January about a new coronavirus emerging in China, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hurriedly sent a batch of testing kits to public health laboratories in America.

Those kits were subsequently found to be faulty during testing done before they were put into use. Tests found that they returned false positive results. A June report into the bungled process, produced by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the General Counsel and published by the Washington Post, found “one of the three reagents in this initial batch of manufactured test kits was likely contaminated.

US news outlets reported on the federal review findings, saying “sloppy laboratory practices“and “time pressures” led to a batch of contaminated tests being sent to nearly all of the 100 state and local public health labs.

An audit into CDC’s processes has since been announced, to be handed down in 2021.

The Instagram post in question shows a partial quote from this article about the test failures on technology website Ars Technica. What is omitted from the quote is the following line which reads: “The contamination did not spread the virus to people, but it made test results uninterpretable”.

While the incident slowed US testing in the early stages of the pandemic, the OGC investigation concluded there was no evidence of false coronavirus test results on patients.

“They could not validate the test—a negative control gave a positive result—and thus, the test kits were not used and no patient received an inaccurate test result,” the report stated.

After CDC scientists discovered the error in early February with a particular substance in the testing batch, the https://context-cdn.washingtonpost.com/notes/prod/default/documents/5610e9fa-86d7-4bd3-8b7a-f8df10c6fc9e/note/7331ef79-a672-4d2d-9eff-f8ce39c2e462.#page=1 “>problem was resolved later in the month and all tests were pulled from the affected laboratories. The suggestion that the tests may be in circulation ignores the fact the tainted test kits were no longer used.

The claim about the tests, which has been circulated in other forms such as here and here, has also been examined and found false by fact-checkers Politifact and Reuters.

This particular version has an Australian angle, claiming some governments are “incentivising testing of healthy people—as in Australia where $1500 has been offered to people to stay home if they get tested positive”. This is inaccurate. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced in June that a $1,500 payment would be offered to Victorian workers required to self-isolate or quarantine because of a positive COVID-19 test or close contact.

The payment is only available to Victorian residents who are unable to work because of a health directive to self-isolate or go into quarantine, and who are unable to access other forms of income.

COVID-19 nasal swab
 A claim that COVID-19 test kits in circulation are contaminated with virus is not true. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the claim that the COVID-19 test “has the virus” to be false. A batch of test kits produced early in the pandemic by the US CDC was found to be faulty, with components possibly contaminated with the virus. This fault was detected during pre-use validation testing and the kits were not used on patients. No incidents of false results in patients occurred, according to the investigation. The OGC report found the problem was resolved with the creation of new test kits. The suggestion that Australia is offering $1,500 incentive payments for people to stay home if they test positive is inaccurate as it relates only to specific workers in Victoria.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/