Fact check: Contaminated CDC COVID-19 test kits recalled and did not spread virus

Images on social media make the claim that COVID-19 test kits contain the virus, implying that getting tested is a means of becoming infected. This claim contains a mixture of accurate and inaccurate information. The quote included in the posts is misleading.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The images, which show a swabbing procedure used for COVID-19 testing, are accompanied by a quote alleging that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent states “tainted lab test kits in early February that were themselves seeded with the virus, federal officials have confirmed.”

Examples of the claim are visible here and here .

The quote included on the posts on social media stems from an article by Ars Technica from April 20, 2020. The article reported on a federal investigation which found that during initial production of COVID-19 tests, the CDC failed to follow protocol and contaminated a batch of tests, making them virtually ineffective. In the second paragraph of the same article, Ars Technica reports that “[t]he contamination did not spread the virus to people, but it made test results uninterpretable.” ( here )

Back in April, The New York Times and Washington Post also reported that lab practices had made the first coronavirus tests in the country ineffective ( here and here ).

The incident resulted in delays for the rollout of more testing as cases began to surge in the U.S.

The Post reported in June that according to a federal review, the contamination of the tests “most likely” occurred in the CDC’s Respiratory Virus Diagnostic Lab. The tests began showing issues before they were shipped out to the state health labs ( here ; here ).

So far, COVID-19 tests have been administered effectively across the country, although below the nationwide target of 1.6 million tests ( here ). According to data from The COVID Tracking Project, last week on average 634,000 people were tested daily for COVID-19 ( here ; here ).

It is therefore false to say COVID-19 test kits contain the virus. The social media posts misleadingly point to an incident earlier in the year in which tests were rendered ineffective after being contaminated during pre-testing phases. These tests did not spread the virus to people.


False. COVID-19 tests do not contain the virus.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here