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Elon Musk Is Unsure Whether He Has COVID-19

Back in March, the Chief Executive of SpaceX, Elon Musk, tweeted that panic about COVID-19 might end up causing more harm than the virus. Two months later, he even threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters from California after the company’s factory was forced to shut down due to lockdown restrictions. Now, Musk himself seems to be infected with COVID-19. The weird thing is that despite undergoing four tests, Musk still is not sure whether he is COVID positive or negative.

Musk and COVID-19

In a November 15 tweet, Musk stated that he was getting “wildly different results” for his COVID-19 tests from different labs. The 49-year-old revealed that he has symptoms of a minor cold and a “moderate case” of COVID-19, which he doesn’t find surprising since “coronavirus is a type of cold.”

Musk questioned the authenticity of the rapid antigen test, tweeting that something extremely bogus was happening. He was tested for COVID-19 four times. Two of the tests came up positive while two came up negative. This happened even though he took the same test, with the same machine, and with the same nurse. Later on, the Tesla boss said that he was awaiting the COVID-19 results from his PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which is often considered to be the most accurate. However, he soon cast doubt on the validity of PCR tests as well, questioning whether the tools used to diagnose COVID-19 could generate false positives.

A technician removes a sample vial and cotton swabs from a coronavirus testing kit.
A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is often considered to be the most accurate in determining whether or not a person has COVID-19. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Musk’s doubts are not new. Many people have raised concerns about COVID-19 tests producing incorrect results, thus inflating statistics. One of the first tests to gain FDA authorization was a product developed by Celix. If your body has antibodies against the coronavirus, a Celix test will give you a result that will be correct 93.8 percent of the time. This means that if 1,000 people were to be tested, roughly around 60 people would get a false result.

Scaling it up to millions of tests, it would mean that the number of people who will receive an incorrect result for their COVID-19 test will be in the tens of thousands. Another testing product, Veritor BD, has a false negative rate of 16 percent. Similar error rates exist for tests by other brands. Under such conditions, it is highly possible that Elon Musk would receive two different results from four tests.

A study that looked at medical databases of COVID-19 antibody tests found that of the 1,000 people who were tested, 31 people who were never infected were incorrectly told that they were immune and 34 people who had contracted COVID-19 were told that they were not infected.

“These observations indicate important weaknesses in the evidence on COVID-19 serological tests, particularly those being marketed as point-of-care tests… While the scientific community should be lauded for the pace at which novel serological tests have been developed, this review underscores the need for high-quality clinical studies to evaluate these tools… With international collaboration, such studies could be rapidly conducted,” the researchers wrote, as reported by Healthcare In Europe.

COVID-19 tests

There are several different types of tests being used to determine whether or not someone is infected with the coronavirus.

Antigen

This test provides results within minutes and is therefore the fastest on the list. The drawback is that antigen tests can generate extremely high false-negative rates, with some studies showing rates of up to 50 percent.

Man being tested for coronavirus.
Antigen testing can generate extremely high false-negative rates. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

PCR

This is a minimally invasive test that has fewer false negatives when compared to other testing methods. However, it can take one or two days to generate a result. False-positive rates can range from 2 percent to 37 percent.

Antibody

Test results can usually be produced within 24 hours. Since this test looks for antibodies that form after a person has been infected with the coronavirus, it is not usually effective in diagnosing active COVID-19 cases.

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