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Omicron update: Why is everyone out of COVID tests when we need them most?

Going from low interest over the summer to sudden high demand has stretched manufacturers and testing sites to their limits.

Omicron update: Why is everyone out of COVID tests when we need them most?
[Source Images: laborII/iStock]

The question people are asking right now isn’t whether Santa has them on the naughty or nice list, but where the #$@!% are all the COVID-19 tests.

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As the omicron variant sparks record case numbers in some areas of the country, Americans need these tests to do everything from fly home for the holidays to attend school, but the tests are in short supply. The result is lines around the block at professional testing sites and the hoarding of at-home test kits purchased online and at brick-and-mortar stores. There are even reports of people staking out retail pharmacies to wait for delivery trucks to bring new batches.

How is this happening 21 months into a global pandemic? Why weren’t we better prepared for a winter surge many experts saw coming?

The answer comes down to two factors converging at a very inconvenient time. First, the supply chain, already bogged down, was further stressed by the huge demand for tests. Second is the rapid emergence of the omicron variant after many people thought the worst of the delta wave was over thanks to vaccinations, booster shots, and mask-wearing.

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Tied into that are bulk buyers of these tests, such as companies that require testing for their employees, and the fact that manufacturers can’t just start making and selling them, like they could, say, a cloth face mask. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve testing products before they can be legally sold.

And not that long ago, people weren’t so interested: The leading U.S. manufacturer of those now-precious tests, Abbott Laboratories, even threw tests out this summer after demand dipped, according to the New York Times.

In a speech Tuesday, President Joe Biden said the federal government would purchase 500 million additional at-home rapid tests, with deliveries starting next month. “And we’re going to continue to use the Defense Production Act as we did earlier this month to make sure we’re producing as many tests and as quickly as possible,” he added.

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Many areas, including hard-hit New York City, have online portals where you can search for the testing location nearest you. Unfortunately, high demand for testing has stretched them to their limits. CityMD, a chain of walk-in clinics, announced on Wednesday that it would be temporarily closing several locations in New York City and New Jersey in order to ensure that it can meet staffing needs.

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