Why are at-home COVID tests so hard to find?

Anyone who had a fear of COVID-19 how difficult the past few weeks may have been to find a home test.

“The difficulty is even more indescribable. I think you have better luck finding the diamond than in one of these home trials in North New Jersey,” said Matthew Hart of Texas, who was visiting family. said. during the holidays.

During the visit, they thought a family member had COVID-19, and so they wanted to find a quick home test. Unlike a Polymerase chain reaction test, also known as a PCR test, which is considered the gold standard for detecting the virus but can take several days to get results, home testing can yield results. results within 15 minutes.

“Almost everywhere you go, mostly Walgreens & CVS, they have a sign saying they don’t have any tests left, this was the case for the whole week we were there; it doesn’t matter where you go. day or time, you won’t find one of those tests.”

Indeed, Hart’s story is not the only one.

“I had a really hard time finding a COVID test,” said Matt Campbell from Colorado. “I live in a small mountain town in Colorado. On Monday our Walgreens received 3,000 COVID tests and they sold out within two hours, employees said it was their busiest day. that they’ve ever seen.”

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Many people have told of how they felt unable to do home testing in many places during the omicron rise – and how frustrated they felt when appointments for PCR testing were also difficult to come by. The good news is that help is underway through the Biden Administration, but there may be concerns that it will come too late. Indeed, the Biden Administration has promised to send 1 billion home tests to Americans. On Friday, the Biden Administration announced shipping would begin January 19, and each US home would be eligible for four free home tests. through this site. The Biden Administration is also asking health insurers to cover the cost of eight tests per person for people who buy a home test from a retailer starting this weekend.

But why are home tests so difficult these days?

Carri Chan, Professor and Faculty Director of the Health and Drug Administration Program at Columbia Business School told Salon that the current shortage of at-home tests could be a combination of many other factors. together. The first is that supply and demand do not match. Before the rise in omicrons, at-home tests weren’t in such high demand.

“The first thing that we can predict is the holiday season and the gatherings,” said Chan. “What’s harder to predict is the rapid rate at which the omicron variation sweeps across the country, and so the combination of those two variations sets up a time when demand has been higher than usual, really out of reach. capacity of current demand.”

Chan noted that many domestic producers have reduced output during the summer because demand is not as strong as in other countries. As a result, a summer production drop could make it harder to keep up with the current surge in demand. “I can tell you we’re seeing unprecedented demand for BinaxNOW and we’re sending them out as quickly as possible,” said John Koval, Abbott’s director of public affairs for diagnostics. fast, told Recode in December. “Despite public health guidance over the summer that sent the rapid test market plummeting, we haven’t stopped running tests.”

Chan told Salon it’s difficult to know exactly how long an upgrade to meet such high demand will take because there are so many components going to production.

“Access to raw materials, solutions, swabs, papers depends on what access to those raw materials is,” explains Mr. Chan. “Then you have to think about once you’re in the production facility, your capacity depends on the availability of raw materials, but also the staff that work there as well as the necessary machinery. “

In terms of staffing these plants, since demand hasn’t picked up in the summer, labor shortages and omicron variation are also likely to cause delays in ramping up production, Chan said.

“That’s part of why ramping up production right away is such a challenge,” says Chan. “If you have a big enough factory and you have enough employees, you can make a lot of kits very quickly, but it just takes a lot of time to increase that capacity and you can’t do it right away. instantly.”

So can the situation be remedied at this point through the Biden administration’s plan?

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, in some cities and I live in New York, there’s a cautiously optimistic view that we’re probably past the omicron peak, but that doesn’t mean we’re not. “Because the peak just means we won’t continue to increase infections, but the total number of infections that we’re seeing on a daily basis is already very high, so it’s going to take some time,” said Chan. before we go back, but it would be more beneficial if we had this product available just a month ago to kick off the year-end holiday celebrations and before things with this particular variant take place. success. “

More on the fight against COVID-19: Why are at-home COVID tests so hard to find?

Caroline Bleakley

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