Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, a man adored by millions of people, is currently driving a new wave of coronavirus skepticism and conspiracy theories as cases and deaths surge all over the United States.
Early Friday morning, Musk tweeted “Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test.” Musk also tweeted that he has “symptoms of a typical cold” and had taken Nyquil. He theorized that false positives from rapid testing is why the U.S. is seeing such a huge spike in cases, and agreed with a follower who suggested that “revenues from tests are likely not bogus & very consistent.”
Musk’s tweets were quickly picked up by the r/conspiracy subreddit, which hailed him as a truthteller. A thread about his tweet is currently at the very top of that subreddit. A moderator of that subreddit commented “this coronavirus nonsense is becoming inhumane beyond all possible reason. WTF are people still thinking? This shit is 100% fabricated and the biggest scam of our time.” Another posted: “A lot of Redditors are obsessed with Musk for his electric cars and that shit. I’m impressed by him for speaking out and being a thorn to the narrative, such as he is here.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus is totally out of control in the United States, with more than 160,000 people testing positive Thursday, barely a week after the country had 100,000 positive cases. More people are hospitalized than ever before, daily deaths are back up over 1,000, and cities around the country are considering new lockdowns.
Musk’s highly irresponsible tweets are par for the course. Musk has never been responsible with his popularity, using his gigantic platform to sic his fans on critics, casually discuss conspiracy theories, and call coronavirus lockdowns “fascist.” Earlier this year, Musk forced Tesla workers back to the factory in direct defiance of a government lockdown. He said coronavirus would go away by the end of April. It has, obviously, not gone away.
Experts have repeatedly said that rapid tests like the one Musk took have problems, which does not mean that “something extremely bogus is going on.” Coronavirus rapid testing is subject to both false negatives and false positives. Experts have been cautious about recommending rapid testing as a main means of combatting the pandemic, and slower but more accurate PCR testing (which uses a nasal swab) is considered to be the best way to diagnose someone with COVID-19.
Still, important people like Musk get rapid tests regularly so that they can continue to live their important lives during the pandemic. The Trump White House had been using rapid tests, which are nominally intended to make sure people don’t have coronavirus before big events, etc. We’ve seen how that has turned out.
Musk has stated that he’s getting PCR tested, which is good. This doesn’t mean, however, that all rapid tests are “bogus,” or that they’re a money-making plot, or that COVID is a hoax, which some subset of his nearly 40 million followers have taken it to mean.