Here’s an important lesson to never underestimate the ingenuity and tenacity of kids who can’t be bothered to go to school. British teenagers are reportedly using TikTok to learn how to hack lateral flow coronavirus tests to give them what look like false positive results—which can then potentially force their entire classes to stay at home.
According to the i newspaper, wily teens have soaked tests in a dizzying array of liquids to see which might create the appearance of a positive test—Coca-Cola, hand sanitizer, and lemon juice have all appeared in clips.
Videos uploaded with the #fakecovidtest have been reportedly been viewed more than 6.5 million times in recent months. One of them shows a seemingly positive result with the caption: “Who knew using blackcurrant on a lateral flow covid test will give a positive result? Thank me later.”
One school in Liverpool that had to send classes home after positive tests reportedly sent an email to parents warning them about the trend. It read: “Nationally, some school students have discovered that placing droplets of orange juice or other fruit juice on an LFD test gets a false ‘positive’ result... Be extra vigilant when your child is doing their LFD tests.”
The fact-checking site Full Fact has reported that people appear to have worked out how to break the tests by using liquids that are much more acidic than a human nasal or throat swab. The acids can then create results that look positive, although, in reality, the test has just been broken. It’s very rare for a lateral flow test to give a real false positive result.
Alexander Edwards, a professor of biomedical technology at the University of Reading, told the site that he doesn’t think the apparent hack is a serious design flaw, commenting: “If you completely ignore the manufacturer’s instructions or in fact use the test for something completely different, then you shouldn’t really be surprised if you get a silly result.”
Edwards went on to provide this effective comparison: “It’s a bit like saying your fire alarm is not very accurate because when I hold a lighter under it, it goes off—but there isn’t a fire in the house!”
Geoff Barton, the chief of Britain’s Association of School and College Leaders, told the newspaper that the mischievous teens hacking the test appeared to be in a “very small minority.” He added: “However, we would urge parents to ensure that tests are not being misused, and we would suggest to pupils who are interested in chemical reactions that the best place to learn about them is in chemistry lessons in school.”
A spokesperson for the U.K. government apparently failed to see the funny side of the sneaky teens, commenting in a statement: “It is imperative that everyone using lateral flow devices uses them in the correct way to ensure we can control and slow the spread of COVID-19.”