In March 2020, people rushed to the stores to hoard toilet paper, fearing that the supply would run out. Almost two years later, people rush to those same stores in search for Covid rapid tests. What do both parties have in common? They are both disappointed after making the trek to the store just to realize that the items they need most are out-of-stock.
Covid tests are one of the best ways to mitigate the virus. Before a family gathering, holiday party, or vacation oversees, preemptive testing can keep sick people home and other people safe.
During the holidays, testing rates surged as people tested to protect their more-vulnerable family members. This holiday testing, compounded by the up-and-coming Omicron variant drove at-home rapid tests away from the store shelves.
“A surge in cases driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant has stretched America’s Covid-19 testing capabilities to their limit,” said Rebecca Heilweil from Vox. “Rapid antigen tests are out of stock at many drug stores, and lines for PCR tests stretch around the block in cities across the United States.”
Even though the holiday season is over, finding a test is still no easy feat. “I was exposed to Covid and started to feel sick, so I went to the doctor, but their office did not have any rapid tests available,” said Margaret Gramling ’23.
The United States may need between 3 million and 5 million tests every day by early February, according to Vox. The issue with this prediction, though, is that there are currently not 3 million tests available for daily use.
In addition to the shortage, test prices have risen along with the demand. According to New York Attorney General Letitia James, “A standard BinaxNOW brand test kit at a New York store, like Walgreens, costs appropriately between $14 and $25 for a package of two tests; however, there has been alleged reports of the same products being unlawfully sold for more than $40 and up to $70 per package.”
Further, CBS News reported that Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal called on the Federal Trade Commission to launch and investigation into the price gouging of the at-home rapid tests.
“Americans need to be able to afford the at-home tests so they can “protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities from the spread of COVID-19,” Markey said. “A pandemic is not a time to wring consumers for profit.”
To combat the shortage, as well as the price gouging, the Biden Administration announced on January 14 that it will buy one billion tests to give to Americans for free.
The Administration states that “a half-billion tests will be available for order on January 19 and will be mailed directly to American households.”
Each household will get four free, at-home, rapid tests to help slow the spread of the virus. Americans can order their tests online at COVIDTests.gov and “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering,” according to the White House briefing.
These free, mailed tests are not the only initiative the administration is taking to overcome the shortage. “There are now over 20,000 free testing sites across the nation, including four times as many pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy free testing program as there were in January 2021, as well as federal surge free testing sites, with more free testing sites opening each week,” the Biden Administration said.
Additionally, the Administration said they will provide schools with “$10 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to get tests to K-12 schools districts.”
So perhaps today’s shortage of at-home, rapid Covid tests parallels the toilet paper shortage in Spring 2020, but we are tackling this issue head-on and working to create a safer nation.