Finding at-home rapid tests for COVID-19 is hit-and-miss, but other options are available
The Des Moines metro area isn’t completely bereft of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests — though finding them can require a hunt.
Phone calls to area Walgreens Tuesday all opened with pre-recorded warnings of “unprecedented demand” for the at-home rapid tests; Walgreens and CVS pharmacies limit their purchases to four and two per customer, respectively — if a store location has supplies in stock.
The at-home tests promise results in as little as 10 or 15 minutes and cost between about $10 to almost $40, depending on the manufacturer. They were subject to a pre-Christmas rush of demand in Iowa and nationally. Supply hadn’t quite recovered as of Tuesday morning, though some Walgreens, CVS and Hy-Vee Pharmacy locations said they were just receiving new stock or due for more later this week. CVS Pharmacy’s website highlights if a test is available at nearby stores.
Hy-Vee spokersperson Tina Potthoff said the chain had a decent supply. “Prior to the Christmas holiday, we saw a significant increase in customers purchasing at-home COVID tests at our stores in the metro; however, we don’t expect any issues with availability as we head into the New Year,” Potthoff said in an email.
Other COVID-19 testing options abound in Iowa
Many pharmacies that sell the at-home rapid tests also conduct their own on-site tests, including rapid tests. For those, they require the patient to visit in-person, instead of having take-home tests on hand to use at the onset of possible symptoms or to check for the virus immediately before attending an event. The price of the on-site tests vary by type, location and patients’ insurance status. PCR tests, which take longer to process, are free at Hy-Vee
GS Labs in West Des Moines showed open same-day appointment slots Tuesday morning for rapid and PCR tests, though it requires private health insurance, which completely covers the cost, or for customers to pay $380 up front.
Test Iowa, through a contract with the state government, offers free at-home PCR testing to all Iowa residents, though the sample must be shipped to a lab to be analyzed. Some drop-off sites, including at the Polk County Health Department, offer same-day delivery of the specimen to the State Hygienic Lab. Iowans can request the kits be sent directly to them, or they can pick them up at any of the dozens of locations statewide. To order a kit or find a place to get one, go to http://www.testiowa.com.
The state has “seen an increase in demand for testing and an increase in the activation rate of Test Iowa test kits,” Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand said in an email. “The State Hygienic Lab is operating day and night to ensure Iowans have timely test results. “
Des Moines Public Schools also contracted with Nomi Health, the company behind Test Iowa, to offer free PCR and antigen testing at two Polk County locations: the Kurtz Opportunity Center on the southside and at the Northwest Public Swimming Pool. The sites prioritize students and their families and school staff, but are also open to the general public. People can make an appointment at http://testing.nomihealth.com/signup/dmschools. While insurance is not required, officials ask people with coverage to bring their insurance card.
The Biden administration will also purchase hundreds of millions of at-home rapid tests for distribution throughout the country, but residents won’t be able to request the tests until January.
What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 with an at-home test
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people who test positive with an at-home test to notify their health care provider and any close contacts they may have had. Federal guidelines also say they should isolate for the next five days and until they are asymptomatic, and to rigorously mask around others for another five days after that. Polk County Health Department officials also urge county residents to contact their office so the department can help with contact tracing, spokesperson Nola Aigner Davis said. The department’s phone number is 515-286-3798.
The CDC recently changed its guidance from 10 days of isolation following new research into COVID-19 and the omicron variant specifically that shows most transmissions happen early in the initial infection.
Test Iowa, health care providers and private labs and pharmacies are required to be report COVID-19 test results to the state, regardless of if they are positive or negative, to help officials understand viral activity in the state, Ekstrand said. At-home tests, “though an important and convenient tool,” do not have the same requirement, she said. They also aren’t used for sequencing, which is used to help officials estimate the presence and proportion of new variants.