With the United States in the midst of a COVID-19 surge driven by the delta variant, a post on Facebook claims that the nation’s top infectious disease expert said that a coronavirus variant can evade detection.
The Aug. 1 post looks like a screenshot of a tweet from a now-suspended Twitter account and makes a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Fauci just told us they found a variant that ‘evades the test,’” the post said. “He wants you to know that you may be sick with an illness that has NO symptoms and cannot be verified with a test to confirm you have it, which is why you still need to wear a mask.”
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Based on the March 22 date in the screenshot, it appears the tweet was referring to reports from France and Finland about COVID-19 variants that were hard to detect. But we found no evidence that Fauci has said variants can’t be detected. We asked the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about this claim and the agency said it was unaware of any such statements made by Fauci.
Types of COVID-19 tests
There are three main types of COVID-19 tests.
A PCR test is a type of diagnostic test to detect an active infection. The test checks for any viral genetic material present in the sample, taken from a person’s nose or mouth.
Another type of COVID-19 test is an antigen test, which is similar to the PCR test in that it helps determine if a person is actively infected with COVID-19. While the PCR tests search for material carried inside the virus, the antigen test looks for viral proteins from the surface of the virus. The antigen tests are commonly called rapid tests, because they typically give results within 15 minutes. Results from PCR tests can take longer, usually 24 to 72 hours.
A separate type of test is an antibody test, which examines a person’s blood to determine whether a person has previously been infected.
The NIAID said variants could potentially change how a test performs. Testing targets a specific location on the virus’s genome in order to recognize it as a coronavirus, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If a mutation changes the genome targeted in the test, it could make it harder to detect.
Testing issues with variants in Finland, France
In France, the variant was undetectable by one form of testing, whereas the mutation in Finland was only harder to identify.
For the variant in France, a PCR test using a shallow nasal swab could not identify the virus. However, a PCR test that took a sample from deeper in the nasal cavity identified the virus. A blood test was also able to identify the variant, according to the French health ministry.
The Finnish variant was able to be identified through a conventional PCR test. However, researchers said the variant looks closer to a non-mutated coronavirus and could only be identified through a deeper genetic sequencing test.
The mutations are not currently circulating as variants of interest or concern by world health officials, and have not been given Greek letter designations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We searched interview transcripts, media appearances and White House press briefings and found no evidence of Fauci ever talking about these specific variants or about any other strain of COVID-19 being able to avoid detection.
In a March 7 interview with “Face the Nation,” Fauci spoke about a variant found in New York that was shown to have some resistance against antibody treatments and vaccinations. But he did not say the variant could avoid detection.
A Facebook post claims, “Fauci just told us they found a (coronavirus) variant that ‘evades the test.’”
We searched interview transcripts, media appearances and White House press briefings and found no evidence of Fauci saying anything about any variants that could avoid detection.
We rate this claim False.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of PolitiFact’s fact checks here.