Elon Musk, who has spent a good part of this year questioning the rationale behind lockdowns and the severity of COVID-19 on Twitter, may be about to find out for himself what the disease does to a person.
Musk announced Thursday night, on his platform of choice, that he'd been tested four times in one day for COVID-19 after not feeling very well for a few days, and being his typical self this was all couched as "something extremely bogus is going on" because he had two negative results and two positives. He went on to chatter about wanting to know more about the testing industry — and a lot of medical experts and others clapped back that these rapid antigen tests are not especially accurate, and he needs to wait for results from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab test, which takes longer an is more accurate. He went on to question the rate of false positives for PCR tests — seeming to predict his own skepticism if and when the PCR test result comes back positive.
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 from BD.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 13, 2020
Would be great to hear from people who know a lot about the PCR testing industry. What’s the approximate false positive rate, all things considered, for cov2 PCR tests?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 13, 2020
Musk claims to have only mild symptoms similar to those of a common cold.
The timing of the tests appears to be linked to a SpaceX launch at which Musk was likely hoping to meet with the four astronauts involved, as he did with Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley before the successful launch in May, as the New York Times reports.
As the Associated Press reports, the launch has been pushed to Sunday not because of Musk's testing issues, but because of high wind and other weather conditions predicted for Saturday.
If Musk does test positive, he will have to isolate, and may only be able to communicate with the astronauts virtually, according to NASA. A NASA spokesperson has said that all the astronauts have been isolated for weeks, and Musk has had no close contact with the team.
Given Musk's millions of followers and constant presence on Twitter, he was quickly criticized for contributing to a narrative of skepticism about the dangers of the coronavirus in general — and criticized for boasting of having four rapid tests in 24 hours when much of the country still lacks access to easy testing. Musk's influence on Twitter only serves to bolster conservative and libertarian and Trumpian skepticism on social media about whether the current national uptick in cases is real, and whether lockdowns and restrictions are necessary.
Back in April, Musk grew quickly defiant over lockdown orders in Alameda County that were preventing his reopening of the Tesla plant in Fremont, at the time questioning whether the mortality data from the coronavirus justified any lockdown at all. Within two weeks, Musk was announcing the plant was reopening, and a month later there was at least one small outbreak of COVID-19 among workers at the plant.
Update: On Saturday, Musk tweeted that he "most likely" has a moderate case of COVID-19, and continued to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic by saying, "My symptoms are that of a minor cold, which is no surprise, since a coronavirus is a type of cold."
Am getting wildly different results from different labs, but most likely I have a moderate case of covid. My symptoms are that of a minor cold, which is no surprise, since a coronavirus is a type of cold.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 14, 2020
Top photo: Musk visits the site of an upcoming new Tesla Gigafactory near Gruenheide, Germany in September 2020. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)