Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday acknowledged the growing threat of the Omicron variant, recommending that Massachusetts residents rely on regular testing to help blunt surging case numbers.
“[Rapid tests] are available at retail, at your local pharmacy, and many other locations, and you can also purchase them online,” he said at a press conference announcing a statewide mask advisory and the activation of the National Guard to assist at local hospitals.
But a recent search for rapid tests in Metro Boston revealed many local pharmacies boasted nothing but empty shelves and apologetic signs. Online retailers were also out of stock, sometimes encouraging shoppers to visit the very stores that lacked inventory.
A Boston Globe reporter visited 11 pharmacies on Monday in and around Boston and none had any at-home COVID tests available. Some stores had predicted the rush and posted handmade signs on the front door saying they were sold out.
One employee at a CVS in downtown Boston looked at the reporter lingering near the checkout counter and, with pandemic-earned premonition, said: “What are you looking for, honey? COVID tests are sold out. Maybe tomorrow though.”
A Walgreens location in Somerville was decidedly more blunt in a lengthy message posted at the store entrance.
“Sorry we are all out of rapid covid tests. Please understand that we do not know what we will get if we receive any on our future shipments, our truck days vary with the season,” the sign read. “Tests sell out same day within the hour.”
The sign then encouraged test seekers to visit the chain’s website.
But securing tests online has proved equally tricky. All at-home rapid testing options offered by CVS and Walgreens were unavailable for purchase Tuesday, accompanied by either the “out of stock online” or “only in stores” label. Some of the lucky few who were able to purchase the tests online for delivery later received e-mails explaining that the “items requested were unavailable.”
Boston residents could, however, secure one pack (filled with two tests meant to be taken 24-36 hours apart) through a Boston Public Health Commission program that started this week in an attempt to expand available testing amid a winter COVID surge.
According to the health agency, residents could grab a kit for each member of their household per visit at designated Boston Public Library branches and designated Boston Centers for Youth and Families locations. BPL said on Twitter it started distributing the test kits Monday throughout the city.
But at several locations, including at Copley Square, Brighton, Codman Square, and Roslindale, residents reported Monday that even the city-run distribution sites ran out of stock quickly, forcing those who showed up in the afternoon to return home empty-handed.
While the program is a step toward free and accessible testing, it is limited in terms of scope. Experts say rapid antigen tests, often used a screening tools to pinpoint the most infectious, are most effective when used regularly, ideally before every social gathering. During the holiday season, one or two tests will likely not fulfill that criteria.