Rapid COVID-19 tests are considered a critical tool for bringing the pandemic under control by identifying active infections and minimizing outbreaks.
Over-the-counter home tests were supposed to help with what has been a heavy lift in the United States, especially as hospitals face rising admissions in the latest wave.
But good luck finding a home test.
These rapid tests, which consumers can self-administer at home, are flying off of pharmacy shelves as soon as they’re stocked.
Manufacturers warn ramping up production could take weeks after having scaled back during the summer when infections and demand plunged.
“The significant demand for COVID-19 testing locally reflects a national trend, driven by continued increases in COVID-19 cases, testing requirements at schools and businesses, and other factors,” Marcie Brody, a spokesperson for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said in an email.
Brody added, “That demand has led to some extended wait times for testing results here and nationwide.”
While home tests are in short supply, COVID-19 testing has remained robust at sites across Pennsylvania.
“Antigen tests and PCR tests remain widely available for hundreds of testing sites across the state – even as we have seen testing demand increase,” Maggi Barton, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson, told LNP | LancasterOnline in an email.
However, none of the pharmacy chains LNP | LancasterOnline contact in Lancaster County— CVS, Giant, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart and Weis — had home tests on their shelves Wednesday.
“We’ve only recently started to carry over-the-counter tests and are facing the same challenges as other retailers due to the overwhelming demand,” Ashley Flower, a spokesperson for the GIANT Co., said in an email.
At least one pharmacy chain, Walgreens, has put in place purchase limits on at-home COVID-19 testing products to improve inventory.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers a lab test as the “gold standard,” federal regulators have authorized the commercial use of about a half-dozen rapid home tests.
These over-the-counter tests can cost — depending on the brand — between $15 and more than $100.
Part of the nation’s testing system does appear to be faring better than during prior surges.
LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics — the nation’s largest commercial laboratories — reported Wednesday a one- or two-day wait nationally for test results. Last summer, a nationwide backlog created wait times of a week or more for results.
Lancaster County’s health systems report plenty of testing capacity in local hospitals.
Officials at each of the county’s three hospitals — Lancaster General Hospital, UPMC Lititz and WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital — said same-day appointments were available.
WellSpan Health’s 14 Urgent Care locations also offer walk-in COVID-19 tests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.