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Do at-home COVID-19 tests still work if they’ve been sitting out in the cold?

The short answer is probably yes, but let the test come to room temperature before taking it.

Packages of BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test seen in a store in Manhattan.
Packages of BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test seen in a store in Manhattan.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

COVID-19 cases are up, and demand for tests is sky-high. These days, getting at-home rapid COVID-19 tests shipped to your house feels almost like winning the lottery.

So what happens if those precious tests, designed to be stored and taken at specific temperatures, arrive and end up sitting outside on the doorstep in subzero Minnesota winter temperatures? What if you’re lucky enough to find some in stores, but leave them in your frigid car while you run other errands?

If you’re expecting a shipment of at-home COVID-19 tests, it’s not a bad idea to make sure somebody’s home to avoid the package’s exposure to the elements. Not all tests have been, well, tested on every permutation of cold weather exposure they could encounter in a place like Minnesota.

Still, the main takeaway from most manufacturers is that their tests should still be OK after being exposed to cold temperatures, though it is best to keep them inside the recommended storage temperatures as much as possible. In any case, tests should be allowed to come to room temperature before they’re taken.

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Here’s what the manufacturers of some of the most common at-home tests say about cold temps and COVID-19 tests. (We’ll update this story if we hear from more.)

BinaxNOW (from Abbott)

Consumers should take steps to minimize exposing test kits to the cold, given storage recommendations, and make sure tests come to room temperature before use.

“As many parts of the U.S. experience colder weather, it’s important to note that many [over-the-counter] health products have a temperature storage range,” said Abbott Public Affairs Director Aly Morici. “BinaxNOW Self Test should be stored between 35.6 and 86° F until [their use]. When using, the test components should be at room temperature.”

QuickVue (from Quidel)

In a statement, Quidel said its QuickVue rapid at-home antigen tests should be stored at temperatures between 59 degrees and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the company said its studies show the product performs as expected in hotter and cooler conditions “encountered during shipping.”

Ellume (from Ellume)

Cold temperatures won’t necessarily wreck your Ellume test, though an Ellume spokesperson said the test should be taken at room temperature of 59 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and the recommended storage temperature is between 36 degrees and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

If there is a temperature-related issue with the test components, the kit will give a “test error” result, as opposed to a false negative.

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On/Go (from Intrivo)

According to a customer service representative for Intrivo, which sells the On/Go COVID-19 tests, test kits should perform even if they’ve been exposed to cold temperatures if the physical components of the test are unharmed. However, if the liquid in the vial that comes with the test is frozen, you should allow it to thaw before taking the test.