Viral videos show people misusing, wasting COVID-19 rapid tests

A new social media trend is worrying health care professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The videos show individuals wrongly using COVID-19 rapid tests and eliciting false positives by running them under the water. The tests only work when used properly, as they are not designed to work with water.

Dr. Geoffrey Baird is chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Washington. He says the false positive is due to the test being used incorrectly. “Everyone one of them is a precision medical device and everyone, if you treat it incorrectly or do the wrong thing with it, can give a false answer.”

While the videos can spread misinformation, Dr. Baird says it’s most troubling to see people wasting the tests to get “likes” online. “When you just use it for something else to get views on social media, that really is not at all what these things are for and it’s a big waste,” he says.

The trend comes during a nationwide shortage of rapid tests while the omicron variant has created the largest spike in caseloads since the pandemic began.

Testing sites, like those run by the University of Washington, have been forced to prioritize appointments only due to the whelming demand.

“There are people who would wait in line and would pay their hard-earned money to have those tests to use them rather than to just film a joke and throw them in the garbage,” says Dr. Baird. He adds that despite what you may see online, these tests are not detecting COVID-19 in the water or malfunctioning. “Putting tap water on something that is not intended to receive tap water as a sample, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. That just means you didn’t follow the instructions.”