The two largest pharmaceutical chain stores in the United States announced the move in separate statements this week, just days before Christmas.
“Due to the incredible demand for at-home rapid testing, we put in effect a four-item purchase limit on at-home COVID-19 testing products in our stores and digital properties in an effort to help improve inventory while we continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands,” Walgreens said. “We refer you to manufacturers for questions on supply of individual products.”
A Walgreens spokeswoman told The Washington Post, “As the nation experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases coinciding with the holidays, we are seeing unprecedented demand for testing services.”
Meanwhile, CVS Health, in a statement shared with Nexstar said it is also imposing a limit on how many tests can be purchased both in-store and online.
“To ensure equitable access to tests both in-store and digitally, we’ve added a limit of six test kits per purchase. Due to a recent surge in demand, and to retain community-based access to tests in our stores, there may be temporary out-of-stocks for these products on CVS.com,” the statement reads. “We’re committed to providing families with protection and peace of mind during the holiday season, and we continue to offer access to lab-based testing with results available in 1-2 days or rapid COVID-19 testing at more than 4,800 CVS Pharmacy locations.”
A CVS spokesperson told The Post that the company has a process in place to swiftly replenish supplies of the tests in the event of temporary shortages.
The limit on purchasing at-home tests comes after an urgent care official said New York, much like other parts of the United States, is seeing “a serious increased demand for testing” amid a rise in cases, which is in term placing a burden on the health system.
In an interview with CNN, Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director of Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care called for “a little bit of breathing room” and urged asymptomatic people to consider taking a home test if they can.
“Unfortunately, it feels a lot like it did last year, where the demand for testing and the surge is really straining the health system,” he said. “We don’t have testing shortages right now … What we really need is a little bit of breathing room.”
“What we really want to do in the urgent care is test the sick and the ill, and help distinguish those who have COVID from those who don’t … So what we need is a little bit of breathing room,” Shipley said.
The medical director noted the difficulties in distinguishing between COVID-19 and cases of the flu, given that it is now flu season and both illnesses have similar symptoms such as fever, cough, and lethargy.
“The challenge is to distinguish those from Covid [patients] and get those people the care they need,” he said.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it is planning to mail out some 500 million COVID-19 tests, starting in January, in an effort to combat the Omicron variant.
“Today, the President is announcing his Administration will purchase a half-billion at-home, rapid tests this winter to be distributed for free to Americans who want them, with the initial delivery starting in January 2022,” the White House said in a press statement.
Americans will be able to get the at-home tests delivered to their home for free via a website set up by the administration.
New federal test sites will also be set up across the nation in the coming days, starting in New York City, to help “states that need additional testing capacity,” as per the statement.
The White House confirmed it is also preparing to send 1,000 members of the military such as military doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel to hospitals in January and February if they are needed.
As of Monday, Omicron accounted for roughly 73 percent of cases in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged people to cancel or delay holiday gatherings over Christmas as it could see a surge in COVID-19 cases.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that there was now “consistent evidence” that Omicron is spreading faster than the Delta variant, and that it is “more likely that people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or reinfected.”
“There can be no doubt that increased social mixing over the holiday period in many countries will lead to increased cases, overwhelmed health systems, and more deaths,” he said, adding that in some cases, this could mean “canceling or delaying events.”