By Travis Decaminada
Key Takeaway: Reportedly, Covid-19 lateral flow tests are vulnerable to tampering via acidic drinks; a few drops of certain beverages on the test strips may force a false positive result. Videos on social media instructing people (largely targeted at youths) how to do this have reportedly been viewed millions of times and continue to garner interactions despite attempts to ban such videos.
It’s common knowledge that kids may try anything to get out of having to go to school. Surely, somewhere, a child has feigned Covid-19 symptoms as a means to avoid an exam or get out of presenting a report. It should come as no surprise then that some kids may take it one step further and actually rig their Covid-19 tests to indicate a false positive.
According to the BBC that is exactly what’s happening: students are using soft drinks and fruit juices to force positive test results. Allegedly, all it takes is a few drops of these beverages on a testing strip to change the results from negative to positive. Per the article, it’s not entirely clear why these drinks seem to have the capacity to fool Covid-19 tests, but there appears to be a link between beverage acidity and its ability to trick the test.
Of note, not all Covid-19 tests can be fooled in such a manner, as the BBC and other sources only report on students figuring out ways to dupe lateral flow tests.
(More about lateral flow tests, and how they function, from the National Institute of Health here.)
Social Media Spreading the Technique
The trend (or at least knowledge of how to tamper with the tests) has reportedly been spreading on social media for some time. Per iNews, instructional videos detailing how to fool Covid-19 tests have garnered millions of views and interactions on Tik-Tok. Reportedly, the social media app has moved to ban videos with the hashtags “#fakecovidtest” and “#fakecovidtests”, although that may not be enough. Per iNews, “The app had previously allowed the videos to remain online after an analysis by i found that clips uploaded under the search term #fakecovidtest had been viewed more than 6.5 million times.” The article goes on to describe how some users are simply misspelling the hashtag as a way to circumvent the bans.
Potentially Serious Consequences
Though it may not be apparent to kids, the results of mucking around with Covid-19 tests can be quite serious. Per IFL Science:
The UK is currently operating under a monitoring system which sees students and teachers taking two lateral flow tests per week in the hopes of identifying small numbers of cases before they have the potential to cause an outbreak in school. A string of false positives therefore has the potential to cause much disruption as students may be sent home to contain an outbreak that isn’t actually happening. In a year following extensive lockdowns that saw some parents go without adequate childcare support increasing inequalities, the need for schools to return to service as near-normal as possible spreads well beyond the direct effect it has on the education of its students.
Thankfully, reports of students actually trying to alter their Covid-19 tests are, per IFL Science, still uncommon. However, the full extent to which the trend has spread is unknown.