Shortages of rapid home tests for COVID-19 as the omicron variant sweeps across the United States have prompted several national chains to restrict sales of the kits.
Amazon, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens all have put limits on how many home testing kits each customer can purchase.
Demand for the kits has skyrocketed as the fast-moving omicron variant infects people across the nation — with 73% of new infections in the U.S. the week of Dec. 12 attributed to the variant, federal health officials said Monday, Dec. 20.
In response, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday, Dec. 21, that the federal government will purchase and distribute 500 million rapid home test kits in the United States free of charge, but that won’t happen until January.
Most rapid home test kits are capable of detecting the omicron variant of the virus, McClatchy News reported.
Here’s what you need to know.
What stores are limiting sales of home COVID tests?
Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Amazon are among national chains announcing restrictions on home COVID-19 test sales.
Walmart will limit customers online to eight home test kits — with in-store limits at the discretion of individual stores — while Walgreens set its cap at four per customer, Forbes reported.
CVS limited customers to six home test kits and warned they may be temporarily out of stock online while it prioritizes putting tests in stores, Reuters reported.
Citing inventory shortages, Amazon restricted orders of home testing kits to 10 per customer, CNBC reported.
Why are home test kits so hard to find?
High demand ahead of the Christmas season, lack of preparedness and spikes in infections due to the rapidly spreading omicron variant are driving the shortages, experts told ABC News.
“We have capacity but when everybody is essentially looking for a test in the exact same moment, the infrastructure just crushes under the weight of that,” John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, told the network.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser, said he’s experienced issues looking for tests himself.
“If you look at what things were like a year ago, it’s infinitely better now than it was,” he told the National Press Club on Monday. “But it’s still not where we want it to be. You have to admit that.”
What is the omicron variant?
The omicron variant was first reported by researchers in South Africa on Nov. 24 after several doctors noticed symptoms among their patients that differed slightly compared to those caused by the delta variant, the dominant version of the germ spreading globally, McClatchy News reported.
Genetic sequencing revealed the variant sports a large number of mutations unseen in other variants.
Federal health officials confirmed the first omicron case in the U.S. on Dec. 1, in a fully vaccinated California resident who recently returned from South Africa, McClatchy News reported.
Experts are still researching numerous questions about the omicron variant, including whether it causes more or less severe disease than other versions of the coronavirus.
Early data suggests vaccines still offer robust protection against COVID-19 hospitalization and death, no matter the variant involved, but booster shots offer critical protection against omicron infection compared to primary doses.
“All of us have a date with omicron,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Associated Press. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”
McClatchy reporter Katie Camero contributed to this report.