Elon Musk said Thursday night on Twitter that he has received mixed results after being tested for COVID-19 and is currently experiencing symptoms of a common cold. Musk says he was tested four times using a rapid antigen test: two tests came back positive and two came back negative. He’s also awaiting the results from two PCR tests but the results won’t be known for 24 hours.
Antigen tests work by detecting a small protein on the surface of the coronavirus, whereas the more accurate PCR tests look for the virus itself. Antigen tests can be conducted quickly as they don’t require a lab, and are often administered in hotspots like college campuses or elderly care facilities. “Positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives,” the FDA tells us, (That’s why PCR tests are ordered for confirmation.) One such antigen test from Quidel can detect the coronavirus 85 percent of the time. Musk says his antigen test came from BD.
Nevertheless, Musk, long a COVID-19 skeptic, questions the validity of the testing with just a hint of conspiracy.
In addition to saying “something extremely bogus is going on,” Musk implies that his experience is likely shared by others and contributing to the current spike in cases seen in the US and abroad. He also responded “exactly” to a tweet saying “revenues from tests are likely not bogus.”
Musk has been spreading doubt, confusion, and sometimes outright misinformation about the coronavirus. He’s accused doctors of inflating case numbers for financial reasons, promoted a widely discredited paper on the benefits of chloroquine, called shelter-in-place orders “fascist,” and dismissed panic associated with the pandemic as “dumb.” In March he predicted “close to zero new cases” by the end of April.
The US is currently seeing another spike in COVID-19 cases. Just a week after reporting 100,000 cases in a single day, public health officials reported a record 160,000 new cases on Thursday, November 12th, according to the New York Times. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the US also set a record of 67,096 on the same day, according to the COVID Tracking Project, with deaths rising to more than 1,000 on average each day.
Musk is the CEO of SpaceX, which is scheduled to launch its first official crewed mission for NASA on Saturday. Back in May, both Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine met with astronauts before they headed to space on a historic test mission. With Musk’s claim of a positive test, its not clear if that will happen this time.
“When somebody tests positive for COVID, here at the Kennedy Space Center and across NASA it is our policy for that person to quarantine and self isolate. So we anticipate that will be taking place.” Bridenstine said at a press event today when asked about Musk’s tweets. “But it’s very early right now to know if any changes are necessary at this point.” Bridenstine added. “We just don’t know.”
Update 11:08 AM ET: Updated with comments from Bridenstine.