Insufficient rapid at-home COVID tests amid huge demand
One highly sought-after item for preparing for safer vacation gatherings is extremely difficult to find – rapid home COVID-19 tests.
A wave of coronavirus cases linked to the Omicron variant ahead of Christmas weekend has caused a crushing demand for over-the-counter antigen tests that can be easily performed at home.
“Unprecedented demand” is how a representative from BinaxNow – a popular antigen rapid self-test that offers results in 15 minutes – described the rush of their test.
“We are sending them out as quickly as possible,” said John Koval, director of public affairs for Abbot’s rapid diagnostic team, which oversees BiNax. “Today we have again performed over 50 million BinaxNOW tests per month, and we are heading towards 70 million per month in January”
Calls to a dozen Los Angeles County pharmacies on Monday arrived empty-handed for rapid testing. One store was full and suggested another nearby. This store was also sold out but was awaiting delivery on the morning of December 24. Other stores had been eliminated from all testing for days and could only offer researchers hope that more would arrive this week in time for the festivities.
Walgreens said the highest-than-ever demand across the country started after Thanksgiving and has only grown since. CVS also said it was working with vendors to replenish its over-the-counter inventory, which includes Abbott BinaxNOW, Acon FlowFlex, Quidel Quickvue, Ellume and Pixel by LabCorp tests, amid increased demand.
“In the event that a local store experiences a temporary shortage, our teams have a process in place to quickly replenish supplies,” said Monica Prinzing, CVS spokesperson.
“Due to a recent increase in demand related to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and to maintain community access to testing in our stores, there may be temporary stockouts for these products online. on CVS.com. “
Health experts continued to encourage residents to get vaccinated and get vaccinated. Before the holidays, they also encouraged more widespread testing, especially people who came in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, showed symptoms, both before and after the trip, meeting with people from other parts of the country, and being in crowded indoor spaces.
Rapid tests come highly recommended as a useful tool to use just before entering a holiday party, including in vaccinated people who are at increased risk of infections with the Omicron variant. Since the rapid test results arrive in 15 minutes, the tests can be much more useful than a PCR test in trying to determine if you are currently contagious. With a PCR test, swabs of the nose or saliva are collected and sent to a lab for analysis, with the results coming back a day or two later.
The delay in returning results means the reading is old and could potentially provide outdated information on whether a person is truly contagious.
“If you’re going to be inside, you should all get tested before showing up to this rally,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer previously said.
Dr Paul Sax, an infectious disease expert at Harvard Medical School, told a recent UC San Francisco forum that when he visits his elderly parents, he takes a quick test just before he sees them. He said it’s important for people to take the test as close to the actual visit as possible.
Sax said he would not visit his parents if he showed signs of respiratory illness, such as a sore throat, even though the rapid test results showed a negative result.
“People shouldn’t use rapid tests, when they have a respiratory tract infection, as a fake reassurance that they might not have COVID,” Sax said.
A negative rapid test result, while symptomatic, does not rule out COVID-19 infection, Sax said. “I wouldn’t go visit grandma with a respiratory tract infection in the COVID-19 era, period,” Sax said
If a rapid test is positive, “you should consider yourself infected and isolate yourself immediately,” Dr. Dawn Terashita, associate director of the LA County Acute Communicable Disease Control Program, told a recent town hall. .
People who test positive should stay home for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms or, if there are no symptoms, at least 10 days after testing.
Rapid tests can result in a small number of people having a negative test result when they are in fact positive, Terashita said. “If there are concerns about the possibility of a false negative test, the test can be repeated 24 hours later,” she said.
Symptomatic people who test negative for the coronavirus rapid test “should retest and get a [PCR] test to confirm you don’t have COVID, ”Terashita said.
PCR tests are often used to confirm the results of a rapid test and are less likely to give inaccurate results, Terashita said. Yet like any test, PCR tests can produce a very small number of false positive or false negative tests.
Omicron – now the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States, accounting for 73% of new infections last week – is expected to cause more infections among those vaccinated – stressing the importance of testing to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Early indicators suggested that while the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, it may be less severe than the Delta variant. But even if that turns out to be true, its ultra-contagious nature could still lead to overwhelmed hospitals if many more people fell ill.
For those who have had known exposure to COVID-19, UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Dr George Rutherford suggests keeping a low profile until a test can be performed. For those who wanted to be tested before getting together with their family but find themselves due to lack of luck and time, the risk assessment is personal.
“If you’re boosted, I’d be less worried. If you are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated or even boosted, I would be a little more worried. If you’re not vaccinated I’d say forget it – the risk is way too high, ”Rutherford said.
So what should a person do if a home test cannot be found right away? Restocking and online orders are possible. Or, if someone can wait a day or two for a result, PCR tests are available through a county testing site or through a health care provider.
Earlier this month, President Biden announced that insurance companies will be required to reimburse people for the purchase of home tests and that 50 million tests will be distributed to community health centers and rural clinics.
Ferrer said last week that the department plans to step up its rapid testing partnerships with community sites.
“We plan to begin a state-partnered distribution of these over-the-counter rapid test kits through our pantries, community organizations, and social service agencies so that those with limited economic resources also have access to no more over-the-counter rapid test kits before the winter holidays.