COVID Test Demand Forces Philadelphia to Cancel Giveaway of 24K Rapid Test Kits

The Philadelphia Health Department planned to give away 24,000 rapid COVID-19 tests ahead of the holidays but had to cancel on Wednesday after a high demand for the tests nearly wiped out its supplies.

The department set up the event to try to distribute the at-home kits before Christmas. On Saturday, people waited in long lines for the free kit, which contains two tests.

However, the department had to stop the giveaway after handing out "virtually all" of its rapid tests, a spokesperson said.

Officials said the department ordered more tests, but it's unclear when they would arrive because of a nationwide shortage. Demand has greatly increased for COVID-19 tests because of the holidays and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

"COVID-19 testing, especially rapid at-home tests, have been more difficult to secure in recent weeks," a health department spokesperson said. "Today, several national pharmacy chains announced that they are limiting purchases of rapid at-home test kits due to their own shortages. These shortages are caused or compounded by unprecedented demand for COVID-19 testing."

Retailers such as Walgreens, CVS and Walmart have imposed a limit of four tests per person after struggling to keep the tests in stock amid the increased demand, Reuters reported.

At Home COVID-19 Test
The Philadelphia Health Department canceled its giveaway of rapid COVID-19 tests after supplies were depleted. Above, a woman holds two boxes of at-home test kits in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The health department said Philadelphia would move forward with a free vaccine clinic at the Waterview Recreation Center in the city's East Germantown neighborhood center after the giveaway of COVID-19 tests was canceled.

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole urged people to avoid multi-household in-person holiday gatherings because of rising case numbers. She said that if people planned to go ahead with holiday parties, they should ask guests who feel sick to stay home, try to have outdoor gatherings and ask people to get rapid tests.

Since the advice, the city has seen increasing numbers of test results, with more than 60,000 test results each of the last three weeks and a record day-high of 13,000 COVID-19 test results Wednesday, health department officials said.

The White House announced this week that it would begin a program of nationwide distribution of free at-home tests to Americans who request them in January. The administration plans to ship out at least 500 million at-home tests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

COVID-19 Testing Kit Line
Philadelphia residents wait in a line extending around the block to receive free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits on Monday. Matt Rourke/AP Photo