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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone December 6, 2021

No, drinking water isn’t testing positive for COVID-19 in rapid tests

If Your Time is short

  • COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water, health experts say.

  • The Abbott rapid test shown in a video was not designed to be used with water or other liquids.

  • A doctor who shared the video was recently punished by health authorities in Ontario for spreading misinformation about the pandemic.

A video shows a man unwrapping a rapid COVID-19 test, applying a few drops of tap water and waiting as a portion of the device slowly turns pink.

A line forms next to the "C" on the test and the portion above it turns a darker shade of pink. There is no narration on the video, but some users on social media have been posting that it shows that tap water is testing positive for COVID-19.

In a tweet on Dec. 5, a Canadian doctor wrote, "Tap water is testing positive for Covid! Rapid antigen tests should be recalled immediately. Asymptomatic testing for any respiratory virus has no proven benefit but leads to lost income, lost jobs or even incarceration of you and your loved ones in ‘voluntary’ isolation sites."

However, Abbott Laboratories, the company that makes the test in the video,  said the rapid test device shown in the video was not designed to be used with liquids. Meanwhile, the doctor who wrote the tweet was recently accused by health authorities in Canada of spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

Dr. Patrick Phillips, who wrote the tweet, was called "incompetent" in September by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which accused him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic, according to the CBC. The group barred Phillips from providing people exemptions for masks, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, and from prescribing certain drugs like ivermectin, to treat the virus, the CBC reported.

The video has been making the rounds on social media since at least June of 2021 and has been debunked by fact checkers at AFP.

An Abbott spokesperson said in an email to PolitiFact on Dec. 6 that its device is not meant to be used with water or other liquids.

Featured Fact-check

"The Panbio COVID-19 Ag Rapid Test Device is for use with samples collected with a nasal or nasopharyngeal swab inserted into a person’s nostrils," the spokesperson said. "When used as intended, it is a highly accurate test that is helping to detect COVID-19 across the world and can significantly improve efforts to control transmission. Spreading misinformation with deliberate misuse of a medical product during a pandemic is misleading and irresponsible."

Instructions from Abbott show the process for using the test, which is far more complex than dropping tap water on it. Test results are determined after 15 minutes, the instructions show, not the little over two minutes shown in the video.

COVID-19 is not transmissible through water, said Dr. Sylvie Briand, the director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, in a September 2020 interview.

The CDC said on its website that "the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees, saying on its website that it "recommends that Americans continue to use and drink tap water as usual." 

Similar claims that Coca-Cola tested positive COVID-19 in Austria have been debunked by numerous fact-checkers, including PolitiFact.

Our ruling

A tweet said that Abbott’s rapid COVID-19 test showed tap water testing positive for the virus. The Abbott test, however, was not used correctly, as it was not meant to be used with liquids. Meanwhile, there is no evidence that COVID-19 has been detected in drinking water.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

CBC, "Ontario doctor accused of spreading COVID-19 misinformation barred from providing vaccine, mask exemptions," Sept. 28, 2021

AFP, "The Covid-19 test kits are not for use with water, manufacturer says," July 6, 2021

Abbott Laboratories, emailed statement from spokesman, Dec. 6, 2021

Abbott Laboratories, "Panbio COVID-19 AG Rapid test device"

World Health Organization interview with Dr. Sylvie Briand, "Episode #3 - COVID-19 Myths Vs Science," Sept. 9, 2020 

CDC, "Water and COVID-19 FAQs," April 23, 2020

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Coronavirus and drinking water and wastewater," 

Reuters, "Fact check: Coca-Cola does not cause a positive COVID-19 test," Dec. 22, 2020 

USA Today, "Fact check: Improper use of COVID-19 test gives false positive for Coca-Cola," Dec. 30, 2020

PolitiFact, "Austrian politician goofed in testing Coca-Cola sample for COVID-19," Dec. 17, 2020

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More by Jeff Cercone

No, drinking water isn’t testing positive for COVID-19 in rapid tests

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