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Rapid COVID-19 tests in high demand amid Omicron spread, holiday travel

Angel Russell

With the holidays approaching and the Omicron variant surging, demand for rapid at-home COVID-19 tests is higher than ever, and local pharmacies are trying to keep up with the need.

Walgreens announced Tuesday it is limiting the purchase of at-home COVID-19 tests in its stores to four per customer as demand for the tests surges ahead of the holidays.

“We had 15 rapid tests in stock yesterday, and they were gone in like two hours," said Torian Thomasco with the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Santa Barbara. "There were people waiting out front this morning for them, and we don’t have any unfortunately.”

Thomasco said people keep coming in asking for rapid tests, but he’s waiting for his wholesaler to get them back in stock.

“Zero to order right now, but it says it's in transit," Thomasco said. So hopefully more before New Year's, but I mean, the whole world wants these right now.”

Dr. Henning Ansorg, public health officer for Santa Barbara, said the shortage of COVID-19 rapid at-home tests is a problem nationwide right now.

“There’s just not enough to buy," Ansorg said. "If you go online and you want to find these tests, most sites tell you they are sold out, because it's Christmas and everybody wants them.”

Ansorg said if you can’t score a rapid test, county COVID-19 testing sites are open this week.

He highly recommends anyone who plans on traveling for the holidays get tested for the virus before gathering with family — even if they’re vaccinated.

“And then it's really important to test yourself when you come back," Ansorg said. "There is a travel advisory from the State Department that any traveler from out-of-state or internationally needs to test themselves upon return.”

President Biden today announced the purchase of 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests and plans to distribute them free to Americans who request them through a website. The administration is still working to determine how many tests each household may request, and deliveries aren’t expected until January.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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