AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the omicron variant continues spreading amidst a busy holiday season, Texans are trying to get their hands on at-home rapid COVID-19 tests and noticing empty shelves.
“I have been looking online for more than a week trying everything and there’s nothing at any pharmacies,” Austin resident Sharon Gamble said Monday, waiting for a test from Nomi Health on Monday.
The lack of available at-home tests at local pharmacies gives health experts some hope, as people are heeding the advice doctors have been repeating for weeks.
“On one level, we in health care and public health are certainly in a strange sort of way, pleased to hear there’s a difficulty finding tests because it tells us folks are getting tested for screening purposes. Yes, they’re also regrettably testing themselves because they are falling ill. But they’re following the guidelines,” said Dr. Mark Casanova, on the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force.
TMA explained the rapid home tests are meant more for precautionary screening, like many wanted ahead of holiday visits.
“It is difficult to find tests in the timeframe that individual desires results. So the simplest way to explain that is, if one way to Christmas Eve, to consider getting tested for a family gathering on Christmas day, it was probably too late to get particularly the rapid antigen or at home tests that we can now buy at the grocery store or at our local pharmacy,” Dr. Casanova said.
The more reliable PCR tests, which the state tracks, are meant more for diagnostic purposes for those who are showing symptoms, or have had close exposures. They’re not as convenient, though, and require patience.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said the state’s supply of PCR tests is fine.
“The more reliable PCR tests, which the state tracks, are meant more for diagnostic purposes for those who are showing symptoms, or have had close exposures,” a DSHS spokesperson said Monday.
“We haven’t heard of widespread issues accessing testing through the public health or health care systems. We continue to make testing available to schools via the school testing partnership with TEA, and in checking with our colleagues at TDEM, they don’t have any outstanding State of Texas Assistance Requests for testing support for our local partners,” DSHS continued.
The current data DSHS is reporting shows something hopeful, as well.
Monday, the state’s positivity rate sat at 21%, which is 5% higher than August 25, the day Texas had 13,732 COVID patients in hospitals. But today, the state is reporting only 3,965 COVID patients in hospitals.
“What we’re seeing with the omicron variant, and with matching that with vaccination, is less severe cases. So whereas before we could look at an increase positivity, and very predictably track that increase hospitalizations, increase ICU admissions, and then ultimately increase deaths, we may not see that unfold with omicron. I emphasize may, because we’re still watching this very closely,” Dr. Casanova explained.
The Governor’s office also issued a statement Monday, explaining the Governor has recently met with the state’s top doctor, Dr. John Hellerstedt, and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, to discuss the state’s current response and preparation.
“As we have with each variant and surge, we continue monitoring the situation and actively responding to combat COVID and keep Texans safe. The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated,” Renae Eze, spokesperson with the Governor’s office, said Monday.
Dr. Casanova is hoping Texans continue to be precautious ahead of New Year’s Eve, as well.
“We tend to gather much larger social gatherings in New Year’s Eve, as opposed to Christmas,” he said. “So with that, there’s a greater possibility of viral spread, this thing is spreading like wildfire. So if you are going to engage in those activities, and you can come by a rapid antigen test, we would definitely encourage you to self-test yourself.”