With the omicron variant of the coronavirus rampant across the country, testing has become a crucial component of day-to-day life.
While the Biden administration has pledged to distribute 500 million rapid tests in the coming weeks, people looking for at-home kits are finding that stores and pharmacies are cleaned out.
In New York City, hundreds of residents have waited in lines for hours to get PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, with results returned in hours rather than 15 minutes.
COVID-19 tests can detect either the SARS-CoV-2 virus or antibodies the body produces with COVID-19 or after vaccinations. Antibodies are proteins that the immune system makes to help ward off infection and fight future illness.
Taking a viral test determines if a patient is infected at the time of the test – including antigen or Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAATs) – while tests for antibodies, or “serology” tests, may tell if the patient has been infected in the past with the virus.
There are two types of viral tests: rapid tests and laboratory tests.
Packages of BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, in a store in Manhattan Nov. 12, 2021. (Reuters/Andrew Kelly)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibody testing is not recommended to determine immunity to COVID-19 following vaccination or whether someone is infected, needs to get fully vaccinated or should quarantine after a known or suspected COVID exposure.
The agency says people who have COVID symptoms, those who have come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or people not fully vaccinated who have been asked or referred to get testing should get tested.
Over-the-counter tests are among many risk-reduction measures, including vaccination, masking and physical distancing.
So, what’s the best option for at-home tests?
“What you should know about what you can get right now is that you can’t get anything right now,” Jordan Savitsky told Fox News Friday. Savitsky oversees COVID-19 testing programs for businesses as chief executive officer of ATC Alert Health.
Savitsky said that by “sort of swooping in,” the White House had led manufacturers to divert test production away from distributors who sell tests to stores.
“And, that’s why, over the last few weeks, they’re impossible to find,” he noted, adding that Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer of the popular BinaxNOW antigen self tests, had discarded millions of test cards.
Savitsky said his company had started doing COVID-19 testing at the beginning of the pandemic and now does “easily 10,000-plus tests a day … in New York alone, and many more than that nationally.”
When asked what advice he would give to Americans looking for tests, Savitsky said, “I would say I would take any test that I can get my hands on because, right now, we’re just not in an environment where anyone has the luxury of choosing.”
He predicted that supply will eventually catch up with the demand, with manufacturers going into “overdrive” to produce as many kits as possible.
Until then, he believes long lines at testing sites will continue until people have the ability to get at-home tests for free.
“But, you know, at-home testing will never replace what they call point-of-care testing,” Savitsky continued.
At-home tests, he said, would not be accepted for travel or work.
Still, at-home tests are important for “peace of mind.”
“Brand doesn’t matter. If it’s authorized by the [Food and Drug Administration] – what they call an EUA, emergency use authorization – it doesn’t matter if it’s Abbott, if it’s iHealth, if it’s Celltrion.”