With more than 109 million people expected to travel for the holiday season and the new omicron variant spreading rapidly, demand for COVID test kits and in-person testing has skyrocketed in the past few days.
Many local pharmacies are reporting they are out of the kits and don't expect to get more in until at least next week.
"We sold out this morning and the phones are ringing off the hooks. People want it yesterday," said a pharmacist at Harris Pharmacy in Doylestown who identified himself as Lee.
The same was true at Mat's Pharmacy in Croydon. "We ran out this morning. This whole situation is very fluid. There are people going to be driving all over the place (looking for kits)," said Mat Slakoper. He said his supplier told him not to expect more kits in until around New Year's.
Neither of these private pharmacies offer in-person testing, but at chain pharmacies and urgent cares that do, appointments for testing, as for vaccines, are usually needed and are booking up fast.
Rachel Osborne sat in the parking lot outside an urgent care center in Falls Township on Tuesday.
She had plenty of company. The lot was filled with patients sitting in cars. Some said they felt sick and wanted to get tested. Others said someone in their family had recently tested positive or become sick.
Osborne called four places and only the Patient First urgent care center would see her Tuesday, she said. She was unsure whether to see her family this Christmas.
Omicron in Pennsylvania: Omicron cases are growing in Pennsylvania. Here's what we know
According to the CDC, more than 61.4% of the U.S. population is vaccinated, but rising concerns over the new variant has pushed Pennsylvania leaders to urge residents to stay home for the holidays.
“After a difficult year like this one, I know that we all want to take comfort in our family and religious traditions during the holidays,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in recent a news release. “But the truth is that COVID-19 is still as dangerous as ever right now, and the best thing we can do to protect our loved ones is to worship and celebrate at home this year.”
Bucks County does not offer COVID testing at its two vaccination clinic sites, but Montgomery County has five sites for COVID testing. "We do not have at-home tests to distribute at this time," said Montgomery County spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco.
encourages everyone who can do so to get vaccinated and boosted.
The Bucks County vaccine clinics, located at Warwick Shopping Center, in Jamison, and Neshaminy Mall, in Bensalem, are open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
What COVID test should I get?
According to the state Department of Health, the highest spike in the number of cases in the state came on Dec. 9, with 11,541. On Dec. 18, there were 6,446 cases reported.
CDC guidelines stipulate non-vaccinated individuals should get tested one to three days before they travel and test again three to five days after their return. Those who got the jab should get tested if they exhibit any COVID symptoms or have been exposed to an individual with the virus but are not required to test before basic travel.
Currently, two tests are being used: molecular, also known as a polymerase chain reaction or PCR, and antigen, also known as rapid tests. PCR tests usually take around two to five days to process and deliver a result, while rapid tests can be determined in up to 30 minutes.
The PCR is the more accurate test and the rapid tests only indicate a “probable” result, according to Maggi Barton, deputy press secretary of the state Department of Health.
If the test taker does not have any symptoms and believes they have a false positive, the CDC recommends confirmatory lab-based testing no longer than 48 hours after an initial positive from a rapid test.
Barton said earlier this month that the state was expecting a surge in demand for COVID tests but did not expect shortages at that time. Wolf recently asked the federal government to make 1 million at-home rapid tests available, particularly for residents in rural parts of the state.
The Biden administration began preparing for the winter season in October, investing another $1 billion in at-home coronavirus tests, quadrupling the nation’s supply since then. Biden also has cracked down on travel, pushed for Americans to get booster shots and is requiring private health insurance companies to cover the costs of tests.
According to Barton, while the at-home tests could help relieve some of the crowds at testing centers, there are many variables that could be an issue with testing.
“There is the potential that at home tests could be conducted inaccurately and compromise the test result,” Barton wrote in an email. “However, if a person is symptomatic and they have a positive at-home COVID-19 test result, they should isolate and their close contact should quarantine without the need for a confirmatory provider-based test.”
Most major retailers — such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, Rite Aid, Sam’s Club and Amazon — list at-home tests on their websites but, as of Tuesday, some appeared to be out of stock or only had supplies available at stores that had gotten a shipment. Also, there was a high demand for in-store testing.
Barton advised those who plan to get tested to think ahead, booking an appointment in advance or making sure to have an at-home test on hand.
“Many sites provide walk-in testing that doesn’t require an appointment,” Barton said. “However, increased demand for testing over the holidays may make waiting times longer and decrease the availability of appointments.”
Currently, the state Department of Health is offering free testing in Berks, Blair, Centre, Clinton, Jefferson, Luzerne and McKean counties in a partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare.
“We encourage anyone who feels they need or want a test, especially if they think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, to take advantage of the free COVID-19 testing closest to them,” Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said in a news release. “This includes fully vaccinated individuals who are experiencing symptoms.”
Testing is running through the Christmas holiday, where the clinics will be performing PCR tests. No appointment is needed. Find the closest testing site here.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Demand for COVID tests runs high as omicron crashes holiday gatherings