As COVID-19 cases surge in Connecticut, some residents find at-home tests hard to come by
As end-of-year holidays approach and Connecticut faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, many residents are seeking out at-home COVID-19 tests — but finding them hard to come by.
Southington resident Shannon King, 28, was getting past a minor cold last week and wanted to be sure she didn’t have COVID-19 before seeing family members over the weekend. She started by looking for rapid-results testing sites near her home but had no luck, as the soonest available appointments were several days away.
She then turned her attention to at-home tests, which have become increasingly popular due to their accessibility and ease of use. She’d heard they were available at most drugstores and had seen that some local pharmacies advertised online that they were in stock.
But finding a test wasn’t easy. One pharmacy told her that the tests were out of stock at that location — and hard to obtain more generally.
King eventually found a few at-home tests at a local CVS (and tested negative for COVID-19), but her experience demonstrated the hassle that increasingly accompanies getting tested.
“Anyone that is seeing family or traveling or anything like that, it’s definitely going to impede them,” she said.
Though health experts note that rapid antigen tests tend to be less accurate than PCR tests — and therefore best used for confirming a symptomatic case of COVID-19 — the easy-to-use tests have become increasingly popular. As Connecticut faces its highest levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases in nearly a year, many residents are turning to at-home tests to enable indoor gatherings.
But rapid at-home tests remain hard to find not only in Connecticut but also in much of the country, despite pledges from the White House to make them more widely available. Earlier this fall, President Joe Biden committed to sending 280 million rapid tests to community health centers, schools and other facilities. In December, the White House announced that Americans with private health insurance would be reimbursed for the tests. Still, many American report finding it hard to buy at-home tests — or find the cost prohibitive for regular use.
That reality stands in sharp contrast to some other countries, where at-home tests are far more accessible: in Germany, they can be obtained for less than $1 per test in grocery stores; in the United Kingdom, residents can mail-order seven tests at a time, free of charge.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the highly-regarded BinaxNOW at-home test was out of stock at nearly every Walgreens in the Hartford area, according to the store’s website. Other brands were slightly less scarce but nonetheless unavailable at many locations.
The situation was similar at CVS, whose website reported that the tests were out of stock at most locations in the Hartford area, with some brands not even available for online order. (CVS spokesperson Tara Burke said that nationwide, the company offers four types of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests and is “well positioned and prepared to meet our customers’ testing needs as we enter the holiday season.”)
Some states are making a concerted effort to make testing more widely available. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Monday that the state will distribute 2.1 million free at-home COVID-19 tests to more than one hundred communities with the highest percentage of families living below the poverty line. The state is also negotiating the bulk purchase of tests to that other municipalities can buy them at discounted prices, using federal pandemic relief funds, according to The Boston Globe.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesperson Max Reiss said Tuesday that Connecticut has “not ruled out” providing additional at-home tests to residents, but that the administration is currently prioritizing expanding walk-up testing sites.
“Right now what we’re focused on is providing accessible and free testing at even more sites,” he said. “Currently, there are 23 state sponsored sites, which are free and easy for anybody to use, but we’re looking to expand that even more, working across our spectrum of providers.”
Experts say readily available COVID-19 testing is important at this stage of the pandemic for several reasons.
“First, because individuals with symptoms who are potentially contagious need to be identified so they can be treated and can isolate accordingly,” said Dr. David Banach, an epidemiologist at UConn Health. “And then there’s also the importance of testing in order to understand the epidemiology as we see new variants. If we don’t do testing, we can’t detect the variants.”
Eliza Fawcett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alex Putterman can be reached at email@example.com.