A woman examines an at-home test kit for COVID-19Share on Pinterest
Experts say at-home COVID-19 test kits may be more available starting next week. Ljuba Photo/Getty Images
  • There’s been a shortage of at-home COVID-19 test kits while the demand for them is skyrocketing.
  • Experts say supply chain issues created the backlog, although President Joe Biden has announced a plan to purchase 500 million more tests and make them available for free online.
  • There are a number of online sites that are selling test kits, although deliveries are sometimes delayed.

As the holiday season approached and the COVID-19 Omicron variant surged across the United States, many Americans found that the rapid at-home tests they sought to more safely gather with friends and family were in short supply.

Those shortages continued in early January, with some medical systems reporting a six-fold increase in testing demand compared to a month earlier.

“Many of the PCR testing sites have some government or state underwriting and are used for regular employee testing, travel, and event access,” Donna A. Patterson, PhD, a chair in the department of history, political science, and philosophy, as well as director of Africana studies at Delaware State University, told Healthline.

“The U.S. has not rolled out the availability of rapid tests in a similar fashion,” Patterson said. “While some businesses provide rapid test availability for employees, onsite or by delivery, most of the tests are purchased by citizens seeking to know their COVID-19 status.”

In early December, the Biden administration announced it would ramp up access to testing by offering insurance reimbursement to the 150 million Americans with health insurance.

Today, President Joe Biden announced plans for the federal government to purchase 500 million more at-home tests on top of the 500 million ordered last month. A website will launch next week where people in the United States can order the kits for free. It’s not known yet how soon the tests would be delivered.

Demand remains high for the test kits as does the importance of testing for public health.

“Rapid [testing] is absolutely critical in managing the pandemic,” said Debkishore Mitra, PhD, co-founder and CTO of Lucira Health, the only FDA-approved maker of at-home COVID PCR tests. “If it takes days to get a result, you are either assuming you are negative and potentially spreading the virus, or you assume you are positive and self-quarantine yourself, creating a whole different set of problems.”

“Additionally, more distributed testing, such as at-home testing, is equally important to minimize infrastructural bottlenecks of centralized testing,” Mitra told Healthline.

One reason rapid tests are still hard to come by is that much of the world is struggling with a supply chain crunch.

“The manufacturing process is different for each manufacturer and often proprietary,” said Samantha Betancourt, the vice president of global supply chain operations, analytics, and external operations at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in New Jersey.

“However, the distribution obstacles are the same that we are seeing throughout the global supply chain,” she told Healthline. “There is an increased demand, a shortage of labor, and raw materials and transportation demand is exceeding the bandwidth of transportation providers.”

But another reason is simply poor or short-sighted planning.

For instance, Abbott Pharmaceuticals, maker of the BINAXNow at-home COVID rapid tests, reportedly instructed workers to destroy equipment and laid off staff as sales decreased, the New York Times reported in August.

Meanwhile, in October, the Biden administration reportedly rejected a plan presented by COVID-19 testing experts to significantly ramp up testing in order to prevent a holiday surge of COVID-19.

More rapid tests should be available in the coming weeks as additional federal funding goes into effect and the FDA approves kits from more test makers.

“Drugstores are restocking, and starting next week, we’ll be able to have at-home tests reimbursed by commercial insurance,” said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 task force coordinator, at a Jan. 5 press conference.

He said that free tests through a government website would also be available in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, while many places remain sold out of COVID-19 tests, here are a few websites that had them in stock at the time of publishing:

Note: The author of this piece was only able to verify the reliability of one website. He received test kits ordered through VerticalPPE within the stated delivery window, without issue.