Fact Check: CDC Did NOT Say The Common Cold Is Counted As A Positive COVID-19 Result

Hoax Alert

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: CDC Did NOT Say The Common Cold Is Counted As A Positive COVID-19 Result Different Test

Did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the common cold counts as a positive COVID-19 result? No, that's not true: The CDC was talking about antibody tests, not viral tests, when it said that a positive result may mean that a person has antibodies from an infection with a virus, such as the one that causes the common cold.

The claim appeared as an article (archived here) published by The Gateway Pundit on July 1, 2020, originally titled "Now Even The COMMON COLD Is Being Counted As A Positive COVID-19 Result, CDC Says." After Lead Stories contacted the website, the headline was revised to "CDC Latest Update On Antibody Testing Results" and the body of the story was corrected. It opened:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is essentially setting policy across the country, endlessly putting out a stream of so-called facts (that they then revise or rescind). Their latest update on COVID-19, posted on Tuesday, is a real doozy.

Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:

Now Even The COMMON COLD Is Being Counted As A Positive COVID-19 Result, CDC Says

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is essentially setting policy across the country, endlessly putting out a stream of so-called facts (that they then revise or rescind). Their latest update on COVID-19, posted on Tuesday, is a real doozy. Here's what the CDC said in a section headlined: What do your results mean?

The article originally stated:

Here's what the CDC said in a section headlined: What do your results mean?

"A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold." That's right, because COVID-19 is a coronavirus (like the common cold), your positive test means you have COVID-19 (or the common cold).

The CDC quote in the article is real but was taken out of context. The agency was talking about antibody tests not viral tests.

What's the difference? A viral test detects a current COVID-19 infection, while an antibody test may help determine if a person had a past infection with the virus. Again, here's the CDC on antibody tests:

A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold.

In other words, if a person has had the common cold, it's possible he or she would register a positive ANTIBODY test. But that same person would not have a positive VIRAL test result. (It's worth noting here that it can take a person's body one to three weeks after an infection to make antibodies. It may take longer in some people; others who are infected may not ever make antibodies.)

The Gateway Pundit quickly revised their story after contacted by Lead Stories to read:

This is the case for the "past infection" test, not the current COVID-19 test to see if you have the virus right now. Current case counts do not include the antibody test and the antibodies are not detectable until well into or after the illness.

The United States has recorded close to 2.7 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the CDC. That case count is determined by viral tests, not antibody tests -- and not by the number of tests administered but by the number of people infected, as Lead Stories has previously reported.

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes thegatewaypundit.com as:

A partisan conservative website that regularly publishes hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and unsubstantiated claims, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

Lead Stories has written about thegatewaypundit.com before. Here are our most recent articles that mention the site:

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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