Updated Sep 28, 2021 - News
Demand for rapid tests high as Minnesota kids go back to school
rapid test
At-home tests are becoming increasingly difficult to find despite manufacturers boosting production as COVID-19 cases rise in schools and employers increase monitoring. Photo Illustration: Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you're feeling sick — or worried about a COVID-19 exposure — and looking for a quick answer, you might be out of luck.

What's happening: Renewed demand for COVID-19 testing is making it tougher and slower to get results for some popular types of tests.

  • Many local pharmacies are booked several days out for "rapid" tests, and at-home ones can be hard to find.
  • We tried a half dozen pharmacies around the metro, including a suburban Walmart, last week to no avail. One worker told Axios all the Walgreens in the metro were sold out of the at-home tests.

Plus: While more than 95% of results for the rapid saliva tests offered via the state's testing program with Vault Health are still available within 24 hours, per a company spokesperson, the median turnaround time is up.

  • It was five hours from when the sample lands at the lab this summer — the latest available data shows it clocking in at nine hours now. That doesn't include the time it takes for the sample to get from the test site to the lab, which can vary based on location and time of day.
  • Minnesota health officials said they've heard anecdotally that tests from pharmacies and other doctors' offices take 24-72 hours for results, but "it is possible that turnaround times are longer now than they were previously."

Why it matters: Testing is key to curbing COVID's spread and allowing us to responsibly go about our regular lives as the Delta variant circulates.

  • Many parents want rapid test results so they can get their kids back to school or other activities after a classroom exposure. While the more accurate nose-swab polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests remain available, at-home tests that deliver results in minutes — versus days — can be especially helpful.

The big picture: At-home tests remain in very short supply nationwide, state health commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday, but there's still "plenty of capacity" for lab-based tests.

Zoom in: Statewide, testing levels are close to double what they were this time last year, per MDH.

  • Vault had processed 86,000 tests as of Sept. 20— up from 34,000 in July but far below the peak of 372,000 logged in November 2020.

Between the lines: The spread of Delta and testing requirements for workplaces, concerts, travel and more have caused demand to surge nationwide.

  • In Minnesota, school-related cases — and therefore exposures — are also up. Families filled many of the testing booths at a humming state-run site at MSP late Saturday afternoon.

What they're saying: St. Paul mom Kate-Madonna Sieger tweeted about her frustration with a "total and utter lack of resources for parents that want to do the right thing … but are stuck in backup [testing] hell" after initially facing a three-day wait for her 9-year-old's results.

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Screenshot: @GirlMeetsGeek/Twitter
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