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Lack of at-home COVID-19 tests available drives up prices on secondary markets

While many health officials recommend taking an at-home test before seeing family, actually getting one is proving to be difficult.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — One of the hardest items to buy this holiday season is an at-home COVID-19 test. 

Demand for at-home tests is high as the Omicron variant spreads across the country rapidly. People are trying to get tested before gathering with friends and family for the holidays.

“It is a great first step to see if you can screen yourself,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday about at-home testing. “If you can’t get it, don’t panic.” 

KING 5 visited pharmacies in Bellevue and Mercer Island. Stores like Rite-Aid, Walgreens, QFC and Bartell’s Drugs were out of at-home tests. 

One pharmacist said his store was supposed to receive a shipment of tests on Thursday morning but they never arrived. Another store said they were supposed to get a shipment on Friday but they weren’t sure if they were really going to be delivered.

RELATED: Yes, at-home COVID-19 rapid tests are as accurate as rapid tests done at testing sites

“If you do see them, take the few you need,” pleaded Mayor Durkan. “This shouldn’t become the toilet paper of today. We don’t need anybody clearing out the shelves.” 

With store shelves already empty, our search continued online. At-home tests were unavailable to purchase on two popular pharmacy websites. There were tests on an app called OfferUp, however, some were marked up as high as $400.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden declared that his administration would purchase 500,000,000 at-home COVID-19 tests, which the American public can request as early as January 2022. However, a similar announcement was made by the White House in October. Biden said the administration was spending $1 billion on at-home Covid tests that would be distributed in December. That hasn’t happened quite yet.

“The federal government has put some funding into this,” explained Dennis Worsham, the interim director of Public Health, Seattle and King County. “We just haven’t gotten the flow yet into the state. We should be able, as a state health department, to purchase those tests and disseminate them within the community. It just has not happened as quickly as the federal government had said it would.”

RELATED: WA Notify now includes at-home COVID-19 test results for exposure notifications

Mayor Durkan says if you can’t find an at-home test, you should sign up to get tested at one of the 11 COVID-19 testing sites in King County.

“We will hope that the federal government can distribute these home tests more rapidly but in the meantime, people shouldn’t panic and think that because they don’t have access to those home tests that they do not have alternatives,” Durkan said. 

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