High demand: How to get an at-home COVID-19 test when they’re all sold out

Jan 9, 2022

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Like masks and in-person COVID-19 testing, at-home rapid tests have been hard to come by lately due to the omicron variant. And if you have upcoming travel plans (or just got back) you may be looking for one right now.

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We’re long past the days where you could easily find a test at your local drugstore or online, and now some online distributors are reporting weeks-long shipping times for tests. Unfortunately, that’s not good for day-to-day life – or travel. Health experts have repeatedly said testing and contact tracing are the way out of the pandemic, especially given the transmissibility of omicron. Pre-travel COVID-19 testing is also a requirement for some destinations (and to fly back to the U.S.).

But how can you find a COVID-19 test right now? They aren’t easy to come by, but you can find rapid antigen tests by checking some unorthodox locations. To be clear, many of the options listed below won’t be suitable for travel (more on that below). But if you’re looking for peace of mind ahead of a trip, at-home tests can be helpful.

Here’s how to find an at-home test for travel when it seems like they’re all sold out.

Official distributors

Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the testing program for international travel to the United States, allowing airlines to accept at-home instant tests that include remote supervision.

One company gained instant popularity for travelers looking for a more straightforward to get COVID-19 tests to fly back to the United States. Abbott’s BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test is supervised and administered remotely online, and is approved for travel to the U.S. Results are available within 15 minutes.

You have a couple of way to purchase this test, but you may want to order ASAP if you have travel coming up soon.

Travelers can order packs of six tests through eMed for $150. The site offers FedEx next business day delivery for orders processed and approved by 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. However, there are no guarantees your order will arrive in time for your trip. Due to heightened demand, the site says, “your test kits may be delayed by a couple of days.” This probably won’t be the best option if you’re in a rush, so you may want to explore other alternatives like in-person testing.

Another distributor, Optum, has since begun selling the tests individually. Optum offers one kit for $50, two kits for $70 or three for $100. Like eMed, it appears Optum is also struggling with demand, as the site says travelers should allow “up to three business days” for delivery.

Delivery apps

(Photo courtesy of DoorDash)

Delivery services aren’t only for getting your favorite pizza or tacos delivered. You can now purchase COVID-19 tests this way, too.

The delivery service Gopuff, which is available in several large cities such as New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles, sells COVID-19 tests through its app. There appear to be several options, from the Binax test to On/Go’s COVID-19 rapid test.

Other platforms such as GrubHub, UberEats and DoorDash also sell tests through major drugstores. Just watch out for price gouging: I noticed a Binax test (which retails for $24) selling for a whopping $70 at a market on the DoorDash platform.

NowInStock

While I have a handful of lesser-known COVID-19 testing kits, I’ve been eager to get my hands on Abbott’s BinaxNow COVID-19 (non-proctored) antigen rapid self-test home kit.

While reporting this story, I noticed Walgreens’ availability status for the product change from “out of stock” to “in stock,” which I saw through a website I use called NowInStock. The site is better known for helping dejected gamers score PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch consoles, which sell out within seconds. You can see availability from Amazon, Walmart and drugstores like CVS. Aside from the Binax test, NowInStock also includes product updates on other tests like Amazon’s COVID-19 Test Collection Kit (which can be used for travel).

The site also shows availability for pandemic-related items such as N95 masks.

There’s no easy way to predict availability. You just have to be patient. I keep the page as a separate window in my browser and occasionally check during the day. But like gaming consoles, at-home tests are selling out quickly. If you manage to find availability, you’ll want to make sure to immediately add the test to your cart and check out right away. It may also help to create an account (and link your credit card) to expedite the checkout process.

City governments

(Photo by Oli Kellett/Getty Images)

Some cities are distributing at-home tests to residents. A few include:

  • Washington, D.C.: D.C. operates a program called “Test Yourself DC,” where residents can receive a COVID-19 at-home PCR testing kit without waiting in line at a testing site. Residents must drop off the test kit by 8 p.m. on the same day the test was taken. Results will be sent by email or text within three to five days.
  • New York City announced in December it would distribute 500,000 free at-home COVID-19 tests and 1 million higher-grade KN95 masks to residents through community organizations.

While waiting for an in-person PCR test recently (in a line that stretched more than a block), a city worker distributed at-home tests to people in line. Residents were allowed to continue waiting for a PCR test or take the rapid test but forfeited their spot in line. I opted for the latter and returned home to take my COVID-19 test.

Like many of the options listed above, this test wasn’t travel-approved. But I did take it before heading out to an indoor dinner with a friend, which at least made me feel more comfortable about gathering in closed spaces. And for people keep track of their status prior to travel, these tests are still invaluable.

Bottom line

As I mentioned above, many of the rapid COVID-19 tests you find at drugstores or on delivery apps generally won’t work for travel purposes. But these options can help you figure out if you can travel (if you get a positive test) or give you peace of mind before hitting the road and heading out into the world.

Featured photo by Aimur Kytt/Getty Images

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