When Amir Blumenfeld decided what to buy for a Secret Santa gift exchange, he came up with something practical: a Covid-19 home testing kit. “What better gift than peace of mind?” Mr Blumenfeld, a 38-year-old comedian, wrote in a direct message on Twitter.
At the heart of his joke was an urgent concern: Coronavirus cases are once again on the rise in the United States as the Delta variant has given way to Omicron, a highly contagious form of the virus. The surge has fueled demand for Covid testing before the Christmas holidays as families look for ways to get together safely.
Some have braved hours of queues at local test sites to undergo polymerase chain reaction tests, the results of which, obtained in a lab, are considered the gold standard for detecting the virus. Many others have rushed to buy quick home tests, depleting supplies at pharmacies and online stores. The frenzy for home testing has made the kits a commodity and even made desirable holiday gifts.
On Tuesday, President Biden is expected to share a plan to curb the spread of Omicron, including distributing 500 million free rapid tests to the public, although it is not yet clear how that target will be met. Several states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have also drawn up plans to increase access to free rapid tests.
Abbott Laboratories, which made headlines in August for destroying materials used in its tests citing a limited shelf life, said the company currently makes more than 50 million BinaxNOW rapid antigen test kits each month. In January, the company said it would increase production to 70 million per month.
“We kept usable test components, many of which were in short supply during the pandemic – such as reagent bottles, cardboard packaging, cotton swabs, nitrocellulose strips and even paper labeling – so we could have them in case we scale back, and that’s exactly what’s happening now. happening,” John Koval, a company spokesman, said in a statement.
Pharmacies have seen a spike in demand for home testing, most of which cost between $7 and $24. Some are starting to put limits on how many each customer can buy.
“After Thanksgiving and leading up to the upcoming holiday week, we have seen an unprecedented increase in demand for rapid OTC Covid-19 testing across the country,” a Walgreens spokesperson said. “Some stores may be experiencing a temporary shortage of rapid OTC testing solutions.” The spokesperson added that a four-item purchase limit on test kits went into effect on Tuesday.
An Amazon representative said: “Right now we are experiencing stock shortages in some Covid-19 tests due to increased demand” and that the company is working on “additional Covid-19 test stock” from sales partners.
Similarly, a Rite Aid spokesperson said in a statement that “in many areas, demand simply exceeds manufacturers’ supply.”
A Target spokesperson said the company was working with suppliers to meet “strong” demand this holiday season. Representatives from Walmart and CVS said online inventory for test kits was limited. A Walmart spokesperson said “stock levels” in stores were significant.
Justin Vavrick, creator of NowInStock.net, a website that has been tracking the availability of Covid home tests since the spring, confirmed the companies’ statements.
“I think a lot of the inventory has been moved to the stores,” Mr Vavrick said in a telephone interview. In-store pickup is where you’re likely to have the most success.”
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Some people have stockpiled test kits, citing concerns about the Omicron variant. Amber Decker, 45, a genetic genealogist in Columbus, Ohio, said she originally started by collecting a small stash of tests ahead of a trip she and her friends had planned for January. “I wanted to be able to ask anyone to test without asking everyone to spend money on testing,” she said. So whenever she saw test kits on sale, she bought them.
Ms. Decker currently has 13 individual tests and has just ordered eight more. “We’ve used home tests a few times in the past when we had worrisome symptoms, but with Omicron it seems like we’ll probably need to use them more often,” she said. But the cost of the tests “really adds up,” Ms Decker added.
Last week, President Biden announced that private insurers will begin to reimburse people for over-the-counter at-home tests in mid-January. But the initial cost of the tests and the labor required to find them has limited their accessibility.
After visiting half a dozen different pharmacies in Champaign, Illinois and coming home empty-handed, Cynthia D’Angelo realized that the top present of the season isn’t a ’54 convertible or an NFT, but a test kit.
Ms. D’Angelo, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is also immunocompromised, said the university has been offering free rapid tests to faculty and staff since last summer. But after making plans to fly to California for Christmas, she decided to look for some quick test kits herself.
“I literally went to six different pharmacies, like all the Walgreens and CVS in Champaign, and none of them had them,” said Ms. D’Angelo, 40, in a telephone interview. “The first place I went, if I had gotten there five minutes earlier, I would have gotten the last one, but I literally saw someone take the last one off the shelves.”
Fortunately, a friend who lives an hour away offered her some tests.
‘I’ll pay her back,’ said Mrs. D’Angelo, ‘but certainly a gift she could get them and bring to me. And I will share them with my family in California.”