As soon as local pharmacies get at-home COVID-19 test kits on the store shelves, they are gone and those seeking these test kits have no other option but to search for them online and they are lucky if they find them.

Over the past week motorists formed long lines at mobile COVID-19 testing sites around the Rio Grande Valley, as they waited for hours to get tested.

This was the same on Thursday as lines of cars snaked around streets at three separate testing sites in Brownsville. Some found out that no more tests were available and that they would have to return the following day or find another testing site.

A line of cars waiting for COVID-19 testing at Valleywide Pharmacy & DME Laboratory stretches over several blocks Thursday on Paredes Line Road in Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Dr. James Castillo, Cameron County health authority, said the motorists in these lines may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or may have been exposed to someone who has the virus.

“The reason for all the testing right now is because the Omicron variant really has caused a big sudden spike in cases and a lot of people are being told right around now that at Christmas time when everybody was getting together they were exposed. A lot of people are getting sick because the Omicron is way more contagious than Delta and can cause a lot of breakthrough infections even in fully vaccinated people” he said.

“With all the gathering and traveling around Christmas time leading up to Christmas is what brought this home and exploded really fast,” he said.

Because a lot of people are seeking at-home test kits this is why not only pharmacies in the Rio Grande Valley but around the nation are running out of the at-home COVID-19 test kits.

“There’s such a big demand that the supply just cannot keep up…before you saw them (COVID testing kits) almost on sale in big piles and now you can’t get one,” he said.

A COVID-19 testing worker sits outside Thursday as cars waiting in line for their test results outside Valleywide Pharmacy & DME Laboratory on Paredes Line Road in Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Castillo said for those people who have not been able to get tested but think they may have been exposed to COVID, they should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that require self isolation.

“It’s at least five days of isolation from the onset of symptoms, preferably 10, but at least five days and for the next five days being really careful and wearing masks and not causing exposures,” Castillo said. “Give it a good solid 10 days before you go back to ‘normal,’ your normal life scenario…I guess right now that is what it might be for the next few weeks unless something dramatically changes with the availability of testing.”

One of the most popular at-home test kits is the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test kit that provides results in 15 minutes. There is such a high demand for these kits that at the moment they cannot be found in stores or online. Other home test kits available on Amazon won’t be available for delivery until Jan. 14 or later.

An employee at Lee’s Pharmacy in McAllen on Thursday said the store had run out of the home test kits and was hoping to have more by Monday.

A line of cars stretches through the parking lot and onto the street Thursday as people wait for COVID-19 testing outside Apple Pharmacy #7 on Price Road in Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

At Salinas Pharmacy in Harlingen, a pharmacy employee said the pharmacy had also run out of the home test kits. She said people are calling the pharmacy asking if they can reserve the kits as they arrive. “We do have them but we ran out. We are hoping to get some today (Thursday) but we haven’t gotten anything so hopefully we will get some tomorrow,” the employee said.

At a Walgreens Pharmacy in Brownsville, an employee was fielding telephone calls from the public asking if the tests were available. There were none nor were the tests available at any other Walgreens store in Brownsville.

A spokesperson for Walgreens said in an email, “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. We refer you to manufacturers for questions on supply of individual products.”

Some stores may experience a temporary shortage in rapid OTC testing solutions. For consumers looking for specific items, updates with the latest available store inventory information frequently throughout the day.”

A spokesperson for CVS Pharmacy had a similar message stating that due to the demand for the home test kits, CVS is limiting the number of kits individuals can purchase in store and online.

“We continue to work around the clock to provide stores with inventory of the five over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests we offer: Abbott BinaxNOW, Acon FlowFlex, Quidel Quickvue, Ellume, and Pixel by LabCorp. 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”

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