Recently, the U.S. government announced that free COVID-19 tests would be available to all citizens, with a limit of four being mailed out to each residential address. This program was made available after a half-billion tests were bought using federal funds.

The tests being mailed are the FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests. These kits will be able to provide a result for the user within 30 minutes of the sample being taken, which will come in handy with COVID-19 continuing to spread in the Northland.

As the tests begin to be delivered, people with mailboxes that are located outside their home are beginning to wonder if they should be worried about the accuracy of these tests once they sit out in cold winter temps. After all, mail can sometimes sit in a mailbox for many hours before some arrives home to retrieve it.

KSTP-TV in Minneapolis did a report on this very topic and it provided a little clarity. They reported the BinaxNOW at-home COVID antigen test will be sent out as part of the free federal government program. According to the company that produces the test, the storage temperature range is from 35.6-86 degrees, however they feel that it will still be fine to use “if the test is stored outside the temperature range for a relatively short period of time- for a couple of hours up to a day or two.”

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However, there is a big difference between sitting in temps a little cooler than 35.6 degrees and sitting in temps that could literally freeze the liquid included within the test kits.

iHealth, another COVID-19 test manufacturer with the same storage temperature range, states on their website that “any extended exposure of the test kit to temperatures beyond this range may affect quality of test results.”

KSTP-TV medical expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou agrees that extreme cold could make the results unreliable:

“If those test kits are shipped and end up in our very cold environment and end up being frozen and then thawed in someone’s home, I don’t have a lot of confidence that I can as a patient or as a physician believe the results,” said Dr. Georgiou.

The bottom line, I guess is there no easy answer. If you know you have tests arriving, make sure to be diligent about checking your mailbox as soon as you can each day until they are delivered.

If temps are below the safe storage range, but the COVID tests are only out there for a few hours, most experts think they will be fine. Just make sure the tests warm up to room temperature prior to using them.

If tests end up frozen solid, they may provide unreliable results after being thawed so I'd really think twice before using them at all.

All experts agree that using common sense plays an important role for everyone. If you are feeling ill, stay home and avoid direct contact with other people regardless of COVID-19 test results.

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