How the cold could affect at-home COVID-19 tests as they arrive in metro Detroit

Posted at 11:26 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 12:23:45-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — The first free COVID-19 at-home test kits sent by the federal government have now started arriving in mailboxes across metro Detroit.

Experts warn letting them sit there too long could affect their accuracy.

“This is the packaging,” said Kate Hoffmire of Ann Arbor as she showed off the package that arrived in her mail Monday.

Hoffmire says she was surprised to find the package filled with her free COVID-19 at-home tests she ordered from the federal government. She ordered them last week and wasn’t expecting them to arrive for at least a few days, if not a few weeks.

“With all the shipping delays that everyone has been experiencing, I would have assumed that it would have gone in the opposite direction and I would've gotten them a lot later, especially knowing how many the government is sending out," Hoffmire said. "But, here they are.”

As the deliveries begin going out, experts warn you should check for email updates on package arrival time, so you can bring those tests inside as quick as possible, especially in freezing cold temps.

“The sensitivity and specificity of the test can drop and vary depending on what temperature it’s in,” said Dr. Asha Shajahan, medical director of Community Health at Beaumont Health Dearborn. "The best way to avoid that is to bring the test in as soon as you can.”

Shajahan says many of these tests have specific minimum temperatures for storage. The test Hoffmire received got from Roche lists a minimum of 36 degrees on the box. Temperatures across metro Detroit this week are well below that.

“What most of the companies are saying is that it’s OK if the test is left beyond those temperatures I mentioned for just a few hours," Shajahan said. "The maximum is 24 hours.”

Beyond that, tests could become inaccurate or ineffective if left to freeze. The least amount of time spent in the cold, the better.

“If you’re out of town and it’s been sitting out in the cold in freezing temperatures for several days, then it might not be accurate,” Shajahan said.

Luckily, Hoffmire was able to grab her tests within a few hours and is thankful to have them on hand after finding only empty shelves in the stores.

“Being able to have tests when people do come over, friends or family, being able to test ourselves and also being able to test them is really comforting,” Hoffmire said.

It’s important to make sure that the tests are at room temperature when you use them.