BUFFALO, N.Y. — Two local major retailers say they're looking into the possibility of selling rapid at-home COVID-19 testing kits in stores. And, just this week, the FDA made a move intended to accelerate the delivery of these devices more broadly to consumers.
There are numerous efforts locally and nationally already underway to try to get COVID-19 testing kits closer to you.
"This would be a significant new tool in decreasing the number of new COVID cases," said Dr. Thomas Russo, a professor and infectious disease chief in the Department of Medicine at UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Several at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits have been approved by the FDA for emergency use – ones that require a prescription, others that don't. But, for months, the kits have not become readily available in stores or online.
"I was really hoping for these tests back in the fall to really help us combat this ongoing pandemic," Russo said, "there's a fair amount of data out there that even if this home test is less sensitive it's going to identify those individuals that are infectious."
To get more rapid COVID-19 testing kits to market, the FDA said this week that test manufacturers don't have to test asymptomatic individuals prior to federal approval, unless there is a specific regulation saying they have to do so.
Earlier this month Wegmans sent out a survey to customers trying to gauge their interest in home rapid COVID-19 testing kits.
"As we look for ways to help our customers, we are considering offering a Rapid At-Home COVID-19 Test Kit for purchase in our stores, once these types of tests receive FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and are manufactured. We would like to understand the level of interest our customers may have, as COVID-19 continues to be a rapidly evolving issue," the survey said.
"We frequently survey our customers to determine their interest in new products. We are still learning more about the at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits and have not made any final decisions whether we will offer them at our stores," said Laura Camera, a spokesperson for Wegmans.
Tops tells us the company is also looking into the possibility of offering rapid COVID-19 testing kits, but is waiting to see what trends there are from consumers.
"We are looking into the possibility of offering the rapid at-home Covid test kits once they do become available, however we are waiting to see what the trends in NYS are for selling them once they become available on the market. With so many rapid testing sites available in our market areas, we’re not certain there will be a great need for an at home kit. At this time we do not have an estimated timeframe if/when these will be in stores," said Kathleen Sautter, a spokesperson for Tops.
"Throughout the pandemic we've been focused on providing access to COVID-19 testing for millions of people. With ongoing demand for testing, we continue to evaluate newly approved products that could provide our customers with additional convenient and affordable options," said Tara Burke, a CVS spokesperson.
The nation's top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci wants to see rapid COVID-19 testing kits more broadly used.
"I actually have been saying that for months and months and months that we should literally be flooding the system," Fauci told a U.S. House subcommittee Wednesday, "you're going to be seeing more of that soon."
The FDA has suggested that rapid COVID-19 test kits not only be made available for at home use, but also at busy places such as airports, sports venues and schools.
"I do believe once we have teachers vaccinated that we can use testing in the schools, serial testing, cadence testing to identify potential infections, asymptomatic infections, shutdown clusters and be able to keep our schools open," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Wednesday, Walensky testified before federal lawmakers that the CDC is working on guidance to accelerate the use of rapid COVID-19 testing.
Here is a list of the devices and tests that have been approved by the FDA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.