Broadway Drug Store in Galveston got a shipment of at-home COVID-19 tests Tuesday. Manager Dinela Flores didn’t expect them to stay in stock for long.
“It’s just recently that people started calling to see if they can get it,” Flores said. “People have been saying they can’t find them anywhere, even online.”
Amid the large increase in COVID-19 cases across the country, driven by the omicron variant, there also has been an increase in the demand for at-home tests. Between Dec. 16 and Wednesday, the number of active cases in the county rose by 692 people, the highest weekly increase since August.
COVID-related hospitalizations have risen in the past week as well, but not as quickly as cases.
It’s probably a good idea for people to test themselves before traveling, especially if their plans involved visiting older relatives or people with serious health issues, Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser said.
People should test themselves about two days before a visit, in part just to ensure they don’t end up having to isolate themselves far from home, he said.
“You don’t want to go somewhere and then have to go live in your car,” Keiser said.
People should proceed with caution if they get conflicting information from tests, Keiser said.
“If one person in the family is positive, you have to assume the whole family is positive,” Keiser said.
The omicron variant appears to be more infectious than other strains of the virus. There are some indications people infected with the strain don’t get as sick as with other variants.
Still, people who test positive should stay home and try to isolate from other people and monitor themselves for worrisome symptoms. They also should tell people with whom they’ve recently been in close contact. People who have COVID-19 can be infectious up to two days before they show symptoms, experts say.
At-home tests are fairly reliable, said Dr. Janak Patel, the director of Infection Control & Healthcare Epidemiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch. But people might want to seek out more accurate PCR tests if they test negative on an at-home test and still exhibit COVID symptoms.
“If you’re symptomatic and your home test is negative, you better go get another test,” Patel said. “Symptomatic people can do the initial home test and it’s positive, that’s fine. If it’s negative, get a proper test done.”
In Galveston County, there have been no announced plans to reopen drive-through testing facilities, which haven’t been seen since 2020. County officials said they planned to continue their partnership with the medical branch, which has operated public testing facilities during the entire pandemic.
Under its partnership with the medical branch, the county pays for testing costs on behalf of uninsured people. Insurance pays the cost of testing for those with coverage.
As of Friday, there were no plans to expand the number of county-affiliated testing sites, Keiser said.
President Joe Biden announced Thursday the federal government starting in January would distribute 500 million at-home test kits to people who want them.
The health district had no information about how the federal kits would reach people, Keiser said.
“We’ve heard nothing about that, except for the president’s announcement,” Keiser said.
Meanwhile, some national retailers, including CVS and Walmart, announced they would limit the number of tests people can buy at one time.