7 On Your Side: How to find and safely use at-home COVID tests

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The demand for at-home COVID tests soared with the surge of new cases, as many people planning holiday family gatherings are seeking the rapid test to safely get together or travel.

The supply quickly shrunk from the corner store to cyberspace.

President Biden announced the government will make 500 million tests available to the American people. So how can you get your hands and nose in a test now?

Sold out, and out of stock, the run on rapid COVID tests have left online suppliers with zero supply and store shelves empty.

"We had 100 kits come in and within 25 minutes, they were all gone," said Yaz Shah, pharmacist and owner of Hudson Drug.

At Hudson Drug in Cresskill, customers crowded the register hoping for take-home kits.

"Last week there were hundreds on the wall, now there's none," said Jeremy Burns, a rapid test seeker.

Burns tried to find an antigen test in the city first.

"Bunch of different places, Duane Reade, CVS, and Walgreens, seven different stops in Wall Street and Union Square," he said.

Unless an independent store will reserve test kits for you in advance, it's usually first come first serve.

Ask your local store what time they expect shipments or keep trying to "add to cart" online at big box stores.

It also pays to drive around. The CVS in Milburn was out, but less than a mile away in nearby Union, two tests were netted at Walgreens.

You can also order free tests by mail, states like New Jersey teamed up with Vault, offering no-cost saliva tests via expedited mail for all residents.

Just beware of online sellers seizing on low supply. 7 On Your Side found a box of two tests which should retail around $25, selling for $350 on Craigslist.

Remember to pay with a credit card to third parties in case there's a dispute.

Price gouging rules are also in effect which prohibit stores from jacking up short supply prices in a crisis.

If you do score a rapid test follow doctors' orders.

"You have to make sure obviously that it's sealed appropriately, you should read the directions before," said Ashwin Jathavedam, MD with Englewood Health.

Englewood Health's infectious disease doctor says timing is critical. The rapid test is most accurate if you are already symptomatic but are not sure if it's COVID or a cold.

"The closer to the time is the better, so if you're going to Christmas lunch or dinner, a few hours before you go is the time to do it," he said.

Also an important reminder: testing should be done along with not instead of other safety precautions.

"It's a reasonable mitigation strategy, now it doesn't replace masking and distancing and vaccines and everything else," Dr. Jathavedam said.

He notes, don't buy up tests like toilet paper, just like vaccine supply, more will be made available soon.



"If you're asymptomatic and you're vaccinated and you're not going to a gathering, there's no reason to test for the sake of testing," he said.

Ask your insurance company for help getting rapid tests. Cigna uses Labcorp which had at-home kits for two-day delivery at $119 a test, but by simply filling out the form for qualifying conditions, the price went to $0.

Make sure you hang on to receipts for reimbursement and if you suspect price gouging, take a photo of the item and the price, alert your local consumer affairs department. In NYC, you can call 311.

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