With cases surging and holiday travel in full swing, it seems as if everyone’s on the hunt for a COVID-19 test. Appointments have filled up. Lines wrap around the block at testing sites in Boston and beyond. Rapid at-home tests are scarce.
So how can you find a test? Here are all your questions about COVID-19 testing, answered.
Why is it so difficult to find a test right now?
A flock of New Englanders is looking for COVID-19 tests.
Thousands have been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, due to a surge in cases and growing worries about the highly contagious Omicron variant. (Massachusetts reported 6,345 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 45 new confirmed COVID deaths on Friday, continuing a sharp rise in cases since the start of November.) Anyone six feet or closer for at least 15 minutes to a person who then tested positive should get a test, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Millions of Americans have booked testing appointments to prepare for Christmas travel and gatherings, too. Public health experts have repeatedly urged people to take rapid tests immediately before seeing friends and family — particularly those who are elderly or immunocompromised — for the holidays.
All that demand has severely limited the number of available appointments for PCR and rapid tests at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. While some people have purchased rapid tests in-person or online, those supplies have also begun to dry up. Select at-home tests cost up to $1,499 for a pack of 90 on Amazon — yes, you read that right. (The individual boxes, which usually include 2 COVID tests, are very hard to come by online recently.)
President Biden said earlier this month that private insurance companies will soon reimburse people who buy over-the-counter, at-home rapid tests for the coronavirus. That may be helpful, but only if you can find them in the first place.
Can I still get a COVID-19 test then?
People can try their luck at booking appointments at pharmacy websites or search for nearby locations through the state’s testing portal. But many residents have had success with walk-in appointments at clinics and hospitals across Massachusetts.
On mass.gov, locations marked with designated hours, rather than “by appointment only,” test anyone who comes in. Take note: not all testing sites are free, and most require people to be in line early enough to test before close.
Here’s a list of major walk-in locations in Greater Boston with all-day operating hours. (Hours may vary on holidays.)
The Boston Public Health Commission is handing out free at-home rapid tests to city residents, too. They can grab one kit of two tests per household at designated Boston Public Library Branches and designated Boston Centers for Youth and Families locations, until supply runs out.
More than 100 hard-hit communities in Massachusetts will also receive 2.1 million free rapid tests, Governor Charlie Baker announced last week. Certain Massachusetts adults who live or work in congregate settings like nursing homes and schools, are experiencing symptoms, or have recently been exposed are also eligible for at-home testing. (Here’s how you can sign up for that.)
Why is testing important?
Even though Massachusetts is among the most vaccinated states in the nation, the winter outlook is worrisome. Higher case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths are expected, according to public health experts and federal officials. The surge in cases is already putting pressure on healthcare workers and facilities in some areas.
“We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN this weekend.
Public health experts agree that frequent testing, masking, and vaccination efforts are best practices during yet another wave of the pandemic.
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