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16 Feb, 2022 18:06

CDC stirs controversy with Covid test explanation

Explanation of where some PCR test data goes leads to confusion and outrage over genomic sequencing
CDC stirs controversy with Covid test explanation

An imprecisely worded tweet by the US health authority about the fate of some Covid-19 test kits fueled conspiracy theories on Wednesday, as Americans worried their DNA was being analyzed without their consent. 

“Remember that #COVID19 nose swab test you took? What happened to the swab? If it was processed with a PCR test, there’s a 10% chance that it ended up in a lab for genomic sequencing analysis,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tweeted

The overwhelming majority of the replies were critical, interpreting the tweet to mean that the DNA of the people tested was being subject to analysis – and that the CDC was collecting this data without their consent. 

A handful of responses, mostly from doctors, tried to correct the record. 

“Of the virus…. Please specify you are talking about genome sequencing of the virus, not the  person,” said US Army doctor Patrick Hickey.

“Genomic sequencing OF THE VIRUS!! Another unforced error,” tweeted Dr. Daniel Schumacher.

Those who overlook the wording in the tweet and watch the video the CDC linked to will quickly see that the doctors were correct. Produced in January by Wired magazine, the six-minute explainer piece reveals that anywhere from five to ten percent of the swabs from positive PCR tests for Covid-19 in the US end up in laboratories that use them to keep track of virus variants, with a CDC official walking the viewer through the process.