Walgreens announced that it’s limiting customers to purchases of four at-home COVID-19 test kits, due to an ‘unprecedented increase in demand’ in recent weeks.
CVS is limiting purchases to six test kits per person, while Walmart is limiting customers to eight tests per person when ordering online.
These announcements come as the Omicron variant fuels case increases across the country and families seek to safely gather for Christmas.
In New York City, where case rates have more than doubled in the last week, people are waiting in hours-long lines to get tested.
President Biden announced Tuesday that his administration is purchasing 500 million at-home rapid tests, to be distributed freely to Americans in an effort meet some of the demand – but the deliveries won’t start until January.
In New York City, people are waiting in hours-long lines to get tested for Covid while at-home rapid tests are in high demand. Pictured: A Covid testing line in Times Square, December 2021
Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS are all limiting purchases of at-home rapid tests as demand skyrockets in the latest Covid surge. Pictured: QuickVue at-home tests shown for sale at a CVS in Washington state, November 2021
The Omicron variant, now causing the majority of new Covid cases in the U.S. – with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that in now accounts for 73 percent of new cases – is pushing the country’s surge into worrying territory.
The U.S. is now reporting an average of 140,000 new cases a day, according to Johns Hopkins.
That’s a 50 percent increase from late November, when the nation reported about 90,000 new cases a day.
These high case numbers are stretching the nation’s testing infrastructure – especially in places like New York City, which has reported record cases in the past week.
As Americans seek to gather safely with family and friends during this surge, demand has increased for at-home rapid tests.
Unlike PCR tests, which must be done in a laboratory and can take days to provide results to patients, at-home rapid tests can be purchased at a pharmacy and done at home, with results available in minutes.
Rapid tests typically identify antigens – proteins on the surface of the coronavirus – while PCR tests identify the virus’ genetic material.
PCR tests are more accurate and considered the gold standard, but rapid tests may still be very useful for identifying whether someone is infectious and capable for spreading the virus to others.
In response to the demand, Walmart and major pharmacy chains are limiting the number of rapid test kits that people can buy.
Walmart has set a limit of eight tests for an online order – meaning consumers can get four packages of the Abbott BinaxNow and other popular test kits, which include two tests each.
Physical stores can set their own test purchase limits depending on their inventory limits, Walmart said.
‘We do have strong inventory levels nationally in store,’ Walmart said in a statement. ‘However, inventory is more limited online depending on the zip code.’
Similarly, Walgreens has limited both online and in-store purchases to four test kits per customer.
‘Due to the incredible demand for at-home rapid testing, we put in effect a four item purchase limit on at-home COVID-19 testing products in our stores and digital properties,’ Walgreens spokesperson Emily Hartwig-Mekstan told CNBC.
Rapid test kits often contain two tests, as the tests are more accurate when patients test themselves multiple times. Pictured: Rapid test kits ready to be distributed, at a community center in Chelsea, Massachusetts, December 2021
Walgreens is continuing to ‘work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands,’ Hartwig-Mekstan said.
This ‘unprecedented increase in demand’ for rapid at-home Covid tests began after Thanksgiving, Hartwig-Mekstan told CNBC.
CVS has also limited sales of test kits to six per person.
The pharmacy chain announced that products may be temporarily out of stock for online orders, as in-store inventory is CVS’s priority.
In New York City, demand for tests has skyrocketed, with local outlets reporting hours-long waits at testing sites across the city.
‘Some New Yorkers said they spent over four hours in line,’ local news site THE CITY reported.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio closed 20 brick-and-mortar testing sites recently, but has now pledged to reopen that same number of locations.
‘We’re going to keep expanding test capacity constantly as we fight Omicron,’ de Blasio said at a press conference this week.
The Biden administration seeks to address the situation in NYC and across the country by providing free at-home rapid tests to Americans who want them.
President Biden announced on Tuesday that his administration will purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests.
Americans will be able to order these tests from a government website at no cost.
At the same time, the administration is setting up new federal testing sites to help states that need additional capacity.
The first of these sites will be set up in NYC this week.
The administration is also working to further accelerate rapid test production using the Defense Production Act.
While the increased tests are a welcome measure for experts who have long said the Biden administration needs to make testing more accessible, the initial delivery of free at-home tests will start in January 2022 – after the holiday travel rush.
Test production company Abbott Laboratories has also faced criticism for reportedly destroying test components over the summer, when Covid case numbers dropped.
Abbott is currently making 50 million tests a month, and expects an increase to 70 million in January, according to CNBC.