A random supermarket in Chelsea. A family-run pharmacy on the Lower East Side. A SoHo CVS that gets deliveries at a certain time on a certain day (And if you’re not there, you’ll miss it.)
New Yorkers are trading secret sources for locating at-home test kits that are exceedingly hard to find. And with the omicron variant surging through the city at the worst possible time, City Hall has so far been less than forthcoming about where people can get their hands on one of the tests furnished by the federal government. Meanwhile, anecdotes of price gouging have been pouring in.
At a Kips Bay CVS on Wednesday morning, Kevin from Brewster, who declined to give his last name, searched for an at-home test for his sick wife.
“You know where to get one?” he asked a WNYC/Gothamist reporter. “There are none in Putnam County. Zero. Everywhere in Putnam County, the closest place to get 'em outside Putnam County is Norwalk, Connecticut."
City officials said they’d continue passing out at-home COVID-19 tests at public hospital testing sites for people waiting in long lines to get PCR tests, and sites would stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to meet the increased demand, though they’ll close early on Friday. Some were being given out at mobile testing units, while five additional pop-up sites — one in each borough — would open to the general public Thursday to distribute a total of 10,000 tests.
On Wednesday evening, the mayor tweeted a list of locations that would each have 2,000 COVID-19 Binax test kits to give out starting at 9 a.m.
At other brick-and-mortar and pop-up city-run testing sites, people in long lines would continue to be offered at-home test kits instead of waiting.
“People will be handed a home test kit if they wish to not have to stand on that line,” Dr. Mitchell Katz, the head of the city’s public hospital system said, during a press conference Wednesday morning. “So we urge people to go to the Health and Hospitals website.”
Meanwhile, lines for COVID-19 PCR tests had snaked around city blocks for days on end, as New Yorkers sought COVID tests ahead of the holidays in droves. Frustrated by the long lines, many set their sites on acquiring at-home testing kits, but found they were in short supply. President Joe Biden promised a new online portal where Americans could request they be delivered to their doors, but that won't be up and running until the New Year.
“We’re waiting on a big resupply both from the private market and the federal government,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “We want to get those kits in our hands, 'cause then we can turn around and get them to people in a much faster manner.”
One online tracker provides updates on where to order tests, though some retailers were charging nearly $100 for a single kit. New York Attorney General Letitia James has warned businesses they could face lawsuits if they price gouge consumers. Walgreens has a list of stores that have at-home tests in stock and you can pre-order them for pickup. CVS offers a list of stores where at home COVID tests are in stock.
At the East Village Prescription Center on Avenue A, worker Rosa Gonzalez said she was having an impossible time keeping at-home tests in stock. A shipment of around 500 came in on Saturday. She said they were gone in under 24 hours.
“They might as well name the omicron the Santacon variant, because ever since Santacon it’s been nonstop daily, phone calls, walking in, ‘Do you have tests?’” she said. “This has been like Grand Central, nonstop. Right now, hopefully by Monday, we’ll have some more.”
As she was speaking, philosophy professor Henry Piper, 64, wandered in to ask her the familiar question. He’d ordered some tests online that wouldn’t arrive until after Christmas, and he tried pre-ordering them at Walgreens, but the order was immediately canceled when the store ran out of stock.
“Obviously everybody’s doing the same thing I’m doing,” he said, adding he was frustrated that Biden hadn’t been more proactive about ramping up at-home testing before the recent surge in infections.
“Vaccinated, boosted, but still not feeling all together free,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional information. A previous version misstated the price some retailers were charging for at-home kits.