Are the expiration dates on Covid tests for real?

I raise this question because I’m an expiration date-denier, at least in most situations. I’ll bake with flour that’s older than I am. I don’t toss food out until it reeks or evolves new life forms. I don’t take orders from the small print on food packaging. 

To my lasting disappointment, though, test kits do get to boss us around. When they pass their use-by date, they start returning false negatives. And the worst of it is, they expect us to be at least a little sympathetic about it. Wouldn’t we get tired of sitting on a shelf and waiting for someone to decide they might have a use for us? And don’t we also turn a little negative with all that passivity and waiting? 

So apologies, but we really do need to pay attention. 

When do the ones on my shelf expire? Haven’t a clue. I should go look but I think I’ll wait and go into a panic about it when I need one.

Irrelevant photo: a poppy


Remember everything hopeful I’ve written about the possibility of universal Covid vaccines? 

Of course you do. You memorize every word I write. Which is good, because I don’t.

I ask because we’ve got some new Omicron subvariants working their way into the pandemic pipeline, and although they don’t seem to be any more vicious than the old versions, they do seem to be better at immunities. 

The one spreading in the US is called BA.2.12.1, which as far as I can tell means it’s a variant on Omicron 2.0. The others were spotted in South Africa and are called BA.4 and BA.5, which are, at least, easier to remember.

Is it time to panic? Nah. There’s always time for that later. 

The new subvariants are able to infect people who had the first version of Omicron–the one that came out before Elon Musk bought the entire genome. They can also infect people who’ve been vaccinated. But the picture isn’t simple. A lot of vaccines are out there and the study couldn’t cover them all. They may provide greater protection. And in case that doesn’t introduce enough unknown quantities, the variants’ ability to slither past people’s immunities could be, in part, because people’s immunity was starting to wane. It could also be because so many people spell Musk’s first name wrong. So don’t jump to conclusions.

What does it all mean for the fight against Covid? A lot of experts are asking that, including the vaccine makers, who could tweak their vaccines to target Omicron and find themselves, yet again, three steps behind a virus that knows the Greek alphabet better than they do. Translation: We don’t know what the next variants will look like (never mind what letter it will be named after), but we do know that a new variant will appear. And experience tells us that Covid’s good at finding ways to dodge our immune systems.

The obvious solution is a vaccine that targets all forms of Covid, and possibly its coronavirus friends and relations as well, and any number of scientists are chasing after that. But they haven’t caught it yet. It’s fast, it’s clever, and it’s small enough to hide in the undergrowth.

Another possibility is to use a mix of monoclonal antibodies that target various strains of Covid. 

A mix of what? A brew made from antibodies created in response to assorted forms of Covid. Pour the mix into an infected person’s system and it can get to work on whatever it finds.

The problem is cost. One dose currently costs $1,000 per patient, so at best it would have to be limited to the most vulnerable people, and only in countries that can afford it. Or if you’re in the US, it would be limited to individuals who can afford it.But if the brew could be gotten down to $50 or $100 per dose, it would be cheaper than constantly updating vaccines.

What does seem to be certain–at least to observers who haven’t drunk the KoolAid labeled “What the Hell, Let’s Say It’s Endemic and Move On”–is that letting the virus spread and mutate while we shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves to live with it is a recipe for trouble.

Sorry–make that more trouble than we already have, since we’re hardly trouble-free just now.


Studies, updates, and patent pools on the spread of Covid

According to one study, you’re a thousand times less likely to catch Covid from touching stuff than you are from breathing in its presence. That’s true not only of you, but also of your friends, your relatives, and your enemies (if you have any, and if you don’t please substitute a few people you never managed to like. And also of me. So if you’re still trying to find that pack of disinfectant wipes you lost at the back of your cupboard (or your neighbors’ cupboard–who knows how these things happen?), relax. You may not need them.

Emphasis, as usual, on may.

Details? Oh, you fussy people. The study was done when lots of antibacterial cleaning was going on and crowds were nonexistent, so let’s not go off the deep end and decide it translates completely to the world we’re living in now. Still, it’s information and it’s worth reading:

The riskiest places, in terms of both air and surface samples, were gyms, with gym drinking fountains rating high on the list of things to avoid. The exercise equipment itself didn’t turn up any positive samples. 

In offices, the study found few positive samples on keyboards, light switches, tables, microwaves, or refrigerator handles. In schools, the same was true of desks.

The survey estimates that the chances of getting Covid after airborne exposure are one in a hundred. From a contaminated surface, it’s one in a hundred thousand–factoring in, of course, that a lot of cleaning was going on at the time, so you might want to move a zero or a decimal point in some random direction to make up for that.

The study didn’t look at the surfaces in people’s homes, dorms, or other places where people live together. I’m not sure how useful any of it is, but I thought I’d mention it.


A different study looked at the effect of what it called layered controls–basically, masks, distance, and ventilation–and found that the three used together would reduce Covid transmission by 98% in 95% of the scenarios it studied. The study involved the gloriously named atmospheric scientist Laura Fierce. She gets a mention solely on the basis of her last name. 

Ventilation alone doesn’t do much to reduce transmission, although if you add in a distance of six feet it does, and masks reduce the safe distance from six feet to three. 

This is all wonderfully sensible, but are we going to do it? Hell no. The pandemic’s over, hadn’t you heard? If you get sick, it’s your own silly fault.

It’s infuriating. Allow me to refer you to the scientist mentioned above. We need to clone her. 


A research team in Japan is developing a decoy virus receptor that promises to keep the virus so entranced that it never finds the human cells it set out to infect.This is in the early stages yet, so we don’t know if it’ll keep its promises, but if it does it should stand up to Covid’s shape-shifting ways, at least for a decent interval. 

It doesn’t sound like the decoy would completely neutralize the virus. They’re still talking about less severe infection and increased chances of survival. But staying a step ahead of the virus’s evolution would be good.


And finally, a bit of good news: The US has put the licenses for eleven Covid-related technologies into a patent pool so that low- and middle-income countries can access them. 

I gather that we don’t have poor countries anymore. We have low-income ones. 

Never mind. The patents include vaccines, drugs, research tools, and diagnostic whatsits. 

The bad news? In some cases, this only gets rid of one roadblock. Countries that want to work with these technologies would still need to negotiate with other patent holders, since nothing about this disease is simple, including who owns what. Nonetheless, it could help pressure companies to do the decent thing, and it could also increase the odds of the World Health Organization making medicines and vaccines available more quickly in the future.

Or so I read. It’s not as if I actually know this stuff.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” according to James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, which pushes (reckless radicals that they are) for intellectual property to be shared so it benefits the public. 

49 thoughts on “Are the expiration dates on Covid tests for real?

  1. I’m still laughing at the little girl who got away with saying “why did someone have to eat a fucking bat?” when all this started. Also, someone has just poured me a very nice chilled glass of bubbles so I’m outahere…

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m more than a little concerned that ventilation on its own isn’t enough. I sit in quite a few parish and community halls playing in amateur orchestras. They’re well-ventilated, but people are starting to sit closer and closer together. Personally, I think I’m too close to someone if we’re able to have a conversation without shouting.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Covid tests have expiry dates? Bugger :( So I went & looked at the back of my box, and there are two dates beside symbols, which took some brain power (before I’d drunk tea) to fully comprehend. While I acknowledge it’s highly likely I read symbols better than I read Chinese, there’s no guarantee of that fact – but if I read them right, I’m good till next year. Except, as mine are of the early variety, I’m wondering if science has moved on since they were produced? That chilled glass of bubbles option is looking darn attractive, and it’s not yet 10am. Sigh. More tea then.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Symbols? You mean like the ones they use on clothes to tell us how to wash them? Or since I, at least, can’t make heads or tales of them, that it’s my own silly fault when they turn into dolls clothes after the first wash? Oh, this is going to be fun.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Why are people using gym drinking fountains during a pandemic?
    Why are people using gym drinking fountains at all!

    water bottles are cheap, and tap water is free…

    I recently went to Shetland and Orkney, up there nearly everyone is still wearing a mask which made me feel much better. Down here people give me funny looks in supermarkets for still wearing mine…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know. I went to a book event the other day (not mine)–big audience, not much distancing. I think two people were wearing masks, me and some guy who looked a thousand years old but was probably my age. Argh. What’s wrong with people?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. After two years of in-person teaching, Covid finally caught up with me. My luck ran out. Myself and my youngest son are currently quarantining in our bedrooms. I was, therefore, just googling expiration dates this week because a couple of our tests had just expired. I still used them because it was a matter of days but my understanding is that the results becomes less reliable post-expiry date. I have now organized all of our tests according to date so that I ensure we use them in the right order but, realistically, in a six person household I am probably going to burn through the whole lot of them by the end of the weekend.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Interesting – I’ve just checked the dates on my Covid tests (they are on the outside of the box in reasonably sized print. On the ones I have, they expire exactly 2 years minus 1 day from the date of manufacture.

    Liked by 2 people

      • April and August 2021. I’m hoping that with each new variant the virus will weaken. The problem as I see it is that in those parts of the world where the norm is a closed society with little or no vaccination programme, a more potent strain may develop and ‘escape’. But who knows? I am a 65 year-old mature creative writing student not a scientist like Ms/Dr Fierce – but it’s a damn good plot for a novel (unfortunately not the one I am trying to write for my Dissertation piece) :-D

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not the plot I’m working with either, sadly. Not that mine’s going well, but that’s another story.

          I hope the variants will weaken, but there’s no law of nature dictating that they will. There’s some evidence that the omicron variant isn’t so much weaker but running into a population with some immunity from prior infections and vaccination. Where neither is true, it’s been devastating.

          Don’t I just know how to lift a person’s spirits? I’ve always been fun to be around. How’s the dissertaton going?

          Liked by 1 person

          • It’s going well, thanks. Again, not a bundle of laughs as it contains historic domestic violence, coersive control, a baby given away at birth (1970s). According to my Tutor, my research into the past show great dedications. I’ll take that (and not remind her that at my age, I don’t need to research the era – I LIVED IT) :-D

            Liked by 1 person

            • Having lived your research? Yeah, tell me about it. I remember the first time I heard that someone was studying the sixties in a history class. I wanted to say, “History?? That was last week,” but managed not to.

              I doesn’t all have to be a bundle of laughs. The real stuff so seldom is.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. Ellen, another easy read on a difficult subject. Your style with added irony & humor made me read every word. Now, I’ve got to check the expiration date on my test kits. So, it goes for your latest book, Other People Manage was a smooth flowing story. Read it and left a 5 star review. Appropriate title, and the main character manages quite well the throws of a relationship, the losses, and dealing with her partner’s complex family. A story of strength and survival at all odds. Well written as you do with blogs or books. And definitely well worth the read. 📚🎶 Christine
    FYI-Amazon KDP just published my paperback historical fiction book, Three Years of Her Life. Available KDP ebook too. Setting up an author page today. Will you publish your book in paperback? I’d like a copy! 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Christine. Congratulations on your book. And yes, do set up an author page. Books are so hard to publicize. Anything you can do is to the good. Speaking of which, leave a link to the book’s page, would you?

      Publishing a paperback isn’t up to me–it’s the publisher’s decision–but it sounds like they’re planning on it. I’m not sure of the timing, though. The bad part of being traditionally published is that these decisions aren’t up to me. The good part is that the people who make them actually know what they’re doing, and they’re an impressive bunch.

      Thanks for both your comments on the book and for leaving a review. I appreciate both.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Ellen. Self-publishing & marketing are not for the faint-hearted or timid. Maybe I’ll try for a trad on the next book —Women’s Fiction & second book might draw more interest. I’ll leave a link to my book as soon as I can figure out how to do it. Another learning task. 🙄 Right now it’s on Amazon KDP. I’ll launch it on social media as soon as everything is ready. Let us know when your book goes to paperback. The cover is really good, and I love real books! 📚🎶 Christine


  8. I just realized that the tests have expiration dates a few months ago, so I promptly stacked them in order of the dates, so we would uses the ones that are expiring the quickest first. But it would seem to be that it would be a good idea if the fact that the tests expire was advertised a bit more. I just happened to notice the dates one day!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Still have no test kits…the doctors and the veterinariabns have assured me (very quietly) thet the expiration dates on meds are not set in stone. I think maybe on a package of yeast it might be important.
    Latest news in The Former Colonies is the rising occurrence of Monkeypox.. I include a link since I don’t expect anyone would believe it if I didn’t.:
    I hope Pict and her family recover safely ! WordPress won’tt let me like any one’s comments, and sometimes not even reply.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you can stand one more article, here’s another one on monkeypox. (We have it here too.) It doesn’t sound like it has as much potential to get out of hand. But having said that, I have never yet remembered to check the expiration date on a package of yeast. Or baking soda. Or self-raising flour. And somehow they all rise.

      May we all do the same.


  10. I think someone needs to invent a vaccine that we can put in the new ventilation systems so we can get the people who refuse to cooperate with what the scientists tell us. At least then their paranoia would be justified (and the rest of us would be safer.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that’s interesting. I had some motion sickness pills that I used, very sparingly, for years without checking the expiration date until I finally thought, with one or two left in the packet, that maybe I should stop in case they made me grow feathers or something. But until I reached that point, they continued to keep me from getting sick and they didn’t kill me.

      For whatever that survey of one person and one medicine is worth–which I suspect isn’t much.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The take home tests are still not that accurate. I know people who took two and got negatives. Then they went to the doctors office and got test with the more accurate one and tested positive. I have some fully vaxxed co workers who have had it 3-4 times. It’s the NYC area though. Most have been religious about mask wearing a lot more than other places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When the tests first came out, I saw a lot of articles about the take-home tests not being that accurate, especially when done by a non-professional. Then all that fell out of the news, but I’m sure it’s still true. I also know people who’ve gotten it multiple times. The vaccines–like the tests–are better than nothing but not a complete protection. The best we can do, I think, it to use whatever protection we can and minimize our chances, knowing that none of it is complete protection.

      Damn, I want this thing to be over. I mean, really over.

      Liked by 1 person

        • For a while there, I saw endless articles about faster and more accurate tests being developed, but none of them seem to have come onto the market. I don’t know if they failed at some point or if the market never made space for them. I can see distrusting the quicker tests, but the slower more accurate ones have a built-in problem, which is that you have to wait for the result, by which time it doesn’t say that you don’t have Covid, only that you didn’t when it was taken.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I am not even sure the antibodies tests are accurate enough. I know of someone who had it then had the antibodies test a month or more later and it showed no antibodies. I am hearing conflicting info. Some say people who had the virus have longer protection from the virus itself rather than from the vaccines.

            Liked by 1 person

            • From what I’ve read–and this is a bit out of date in a field where the understanding is changing quickly–a combination of vaccine and recovery from the virus offers the strongest protection. The vaccines offer a wider protection than having recovered from the virus, which isn’t the same thing as a stronger immune response. But (and I haven’t read this–I’m putting together bits of what I think I understand) there seems to be a lot of individual variation in how people and their immune systems respond to the damn thing.

              Liked by 1 person

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