TikTok hacks are reportedly teaching teenagers how to break at-home lateral flow COVID-19 tests to get false-postive results. While this hack is most popular with teens in the UK, here's what all parents need to know.

A close up of a lateral flow home testing kit
Credit: EllenMoran/Getty Images

As if the coronavirus pandemic wasn't disrupting kids' education enough, new reports detail scams that could cause a chain of school quarantines. Enterprising teens are reportedly faking positive COVID-19 test results as a way to get out of going to school. Sometimes, they sideline many of their classmates in the process. 

According to the British outlet i, teens in the United Kingdom were using droplets of acidic liquids like Coca Cola, vinegar, and orange juice to break their lateral flow at-home COVID-19 test into displaying what reads like a positive result. Schools in the UK recommended students use these at-home test kits weekly before they attend class. A TikTok video explaining this hack was viewed more than 2.5 million times since it was uploaded in April.

The fact-checking website FullFact.org confirms that lateral flow tests (like the at-home BinaxNow tests in the United States) can be "broken" to simulate a positive result with highly acidic samples like soda or oranges. When used correctly, rapid tests are very unlikely to return a false positive result.

The newspaper went on to explain that when a school does require a negative at-home COVID test for attendance, they also require a follow-up PCR test upon positive results. Students who get a negative PCR test result after a positive lateral flow test are allowed back into school without isolating. Officials in England suggested parents observe their teens while they take their at-home COVID-19 tests, just in case.

Earlier this summer, nearly 750,000 English students were self-isolating because of potential coronavirus exposure. This number was fueled by a policy of sending home whole "bubbles" of students who have been in contact with a positive case. All adolescents who are 16 or 17 years old only just became eligible to receive vaccines in the U.K., and rollout of the vaccine will start soon. In comparison, the United States opened vaccine eligibility for all children 12 and older in May.

What U.S. Parents Need to Know

In the U.S., school rules surrounding COVID-19 testing often come down to local decision makers. The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) school reopening guidelines states that unvaccinated people exposed to COVID-19 should still be required to quarantine for 14 days or test out of quarantine before returning to school. Lateral flow at-home testing has not been introduced as a recommendation for schools in the U.S.

Depending on the school's rules, "close contacts" of a positive case may be required to self-isolate at home before returning to school. This could include an entire classroom, or just a few students. The length of time also varies, as some districts allow people self-isolating to return with a negative COVID-19 test result after several days. The CDC guidelines also state that if all children in a classroom wear masks, none of the students in a class are considered close contacts.

While quarantines fueled by false positives from broken tests are a theoretical concern, learning disruption from quarantines is a real issue, especially in areas where schools can't or don't require students to wear masks. The best way to lessen this risk is for all eligible people in a community to get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and exceedingly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.