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Health departments report shortage of COVID-19 rapid tests

Many health departments are switching over to the PCR test after running low or being completely out of the rapid test.

FISHERS, Ind. — Getting COVID-19 test results back could now take longer after a national shortage of the popular BinaxNOW COVID-19 test.

Many health departments are switching over to the PCR test after running low or being completely out of the rapid test. At the same time, they are seeing a higher demand for testing with holiday gatherings and seasonal infections.

"We've had, since Thanksgiving or just before Thanksgiving, an increase in utilization of our site. We are seeing on average about 230 people a day," said Monica Heltz, Fishers' public health director.

About two weeks ago, the Fishers Health Department ran out of COVID-19 rapid tests after not receiving a new shipment. 

"Shortly after that, we received a notice from the state department of health that they would not be able to provide tests at this time because they were unable to obtain them as well," Heltz said.

Boone and Madison counties have also run out, and many pharmacies, like Walgreens and CVS, are limiting appointments. 

Due to nationwide supply issues, we will only be offering our Binax Now rapid tests on Monday, December 6th until...

Posted by Boone County Health Department on Friday, December 3, 2021

"It's quite frustrating at this point in the pandemic to be feeling like we are back where we were in the beginning," Heltz said.

Heltz said there are plenty of PCR tests still available, which are considered the gold standard and more accurate. They are also the test that checks for variants.

"You don't get the results back immediately like you do with the rapid tests. So, I know a lot of us have come to rely on those rapid tests, and it's frustrating to not have them available," she said.

Without rapid tests available, Heltz said this could put a strain on labs processing results and lead to longer wait times. Heltz said it usually takes one to three days to get results right now.

"We are seeing a lot of people switch. We were doing about 150 rapid tests a day, so all of those are now PCR tests. So, that could have some other impacts on the system," she said.

Credit: WTHR/Lauren Kostiuk

Heltz suggests scheduling appointments in advance if you know you will need one, for example, if you are traveling or if your child is quarantining and needs one before going back to school.

The Indiana Department of Health said in a statement, "IDOH is not receiving its full weekly order of BinaxNOW test kits due to limited availability nationally, which means there are fewer to distribute to the local health departments. We are working to acquire additional rapid tests from other sources. There is also ample PCR testing available, and our laboratory partners provide results quickly."

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