Some of the at-home Covid tests distributed by the Biden administration may be frozen by the time they arrive at people’s homes, and may not work, an expert warns.
The long awaited test distribution finally began last month, but experts warn that the test must be stored at a temperature of 35 degrees or lower. If a person has an outdoor mailbox and does not retrieve the test within a few hours of its arrival, a liquid cartridge inside the test could freeze and become unusable.
A person who uses a frozen test could get a false negative result and potentially expose others to the virus thinking they are safe.
It is yet another issue facing the test rollout by the federal government, which has already received criticism for how long it took to get the tests out, for four tests not being enough for some households and some people who live in a multi-unit building reporting that only one unit could receive the test.
At-home Covid tests can freeze if they are left in an outdoor mailbox or sitting outside for too long after delivery, and could become unusable, experts warn (file photo)
If the liquid cartridge inside the test freezes – which can happen if it is stored at under 35 degrees – the test could become unusable and provide a false-negative result, experts warn (file photo)
‘Just as anything with liquid, if it’s chilled or frozen, it changes. That’s the same with these at-home tests,’ Dr Geoffrey Baird, chair of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington told USA Today.
‘At a time where temperatures are freezing in most places, it’s safer to choose another test.’
Baird recommends that people pick up the tests as soon as possible from outside.
Some people may be at work when the test arrives, though, or just out of the house, meaning the test may freeze sitting out in the cold for a few hours.
If the test is frozen after sitting outside for an extended period of time, it is likely unusable at that point, as the solution will have been damaged already.
“When you freeze and thaw something, the solutions in it may not actually get back into solution as it once was before,’ Baird said.
‘That’s where the inaccuracy in these at-home tests can come from.’
Once inside, experts recommend to also make sure you do not put in front of a window, or another environment that will cause it to overheat. The liquid reaching 85 degrees or higher could be a problem as well.
‘Your best bet is room temperature. Nothing colder or hotter because the test is sensitive to those temperatures,’ Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida said.
The federal government chose to launch the long-sought after free test distribution in wake of the Omicron variant causing massive case surges nationwide at the end of 2021.
Case surges often correspond with weather, with colder winter months and warmer summer months having been the worst of the pandemic through its first two years.
The timing of these tests are partly an unfortunate coincidence, but also partly because of how long it took the U.S. to implement free testing distribution – a program peer nations have had in place for over a year.
In December, the surge in demand for tests led to massive shortages and price gouging for at-home tests at some pharmacies.
Then, once the federal government finally stepped up to quell the issue, it was revealed that each household in the U.S. will only receive four tests each.
The average American family has just over three people, meaning that everyone in the house would only be able to test once – and they were out of luck if they had a larger family.
For comparison, the UK allows for residents to regularly order packs of seven tests for free, while for the U.S. it is only four tests, one time.
Many Americans also live with roommates or in other co-living situations, and often have more than four people in a single household.
Once the tests did become available, many people who live in apartment buildings or other places where multiple units shared the same address reported that only one housing unit could requests tests out of an entire building – which could potentially have hundreds of different families.
At-home tests are also popularly used for travel, but they may not be valid under some restrictions that require a person to take a rapid test in front of a health official for certification.
This includes some domestic regulations, like traveling to Hawaii or Puerto Rico.