Santa Rosa pharmacies struggle to keep home COVID-19 tests on shelves

Pharmacies in Sonoma County are struggling to keep COVID-19 rapid home antigen test kits on the shelves as a crush of people seek to test themselves before traveling or visiting family for Christmas.

Large drugstore chains around Santa Rosa were largely sold from home test kits, eleven of which the Federal Drug Administration approved on Thursday. Meanwhile, pharmacy managers at two local pharmacies on Christmas Eve reported that the limited number of tests they were able to get from distributors didn’t stay on the shelves for long.

People should call pharmacies before going to one to save time, said Dr Panna Lossy, medical director of the advocacy organization IsoCare Network. Pharmacies receive tests at different times of the day and on different days, she said.

Tuttle’s Doyle Park pharmacy last got home tests on Dec.15, manager Debbie Ling said, when she received thirteen of the 25 she was supposed to receive. The tests were gone in 90 minutes, she said.

“How the word can spread so quickly, I have no idea,” she said. The pharmacy is closed over Christmas, Ling said, but she does not plan to receive further tests until Monday or Tuesday.

The rush for testing mostly started this week, she said.

Throughout the pandemic, infectious disease experts have encouraged the use of rapid antigenic tests to help fight COVID-19.

Unlike polymerase chain reaction (or PCR) testing, which is the mainstay of COVID-19 diagnostic testing, antigen testing can be used at home and will produce test results within 15 to 30 minutes. Although not as sensitive as PCR tests, antigen tests are effective at detecting higher viral loads.

“Every third or fourth phone call we got yesterday and the day before was only to ask if we have them,” Ling said. “We feel bad because we don’t know where to send them.”

Ling chose not to order more expensive tests.

At Forestville Pharmacy, manager Mark Olson pays and bills a little more to try and keep the tests in stock. It sells the BinaxNOW kit, for $ 34.50 and the QuickVue tests for $ 39.50, about $ 10 more than each online test.

Olson’s pharmacy is allocated 50 kits a week by wholesalers, he said. “We had some yesterday, they went fast,” he said on Friday. The pharmacy was due to receive more at 11 a.m.

The shortage of take-out tests is nationwide, according to reports. Earlier this week, the federal government announced a program to ship 500 million home test kits to any household that wants one, although the program does not begin until January.

In Sonoma County, a coalition of local health advocates was distributing more than 100,000 rapid tests to disadvantaged and low-income Latin American families. These families suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, and officials hoped to mitigate the impact of another winter wave of COVID-19. The tests were distributed by various churches, food banks and aid groups.

These tests have all been distributed, Lossy said with IsoCare Network. Lossy has recommended ordering tests online to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak that is likely to strike in the coming weeks.

On Friday, in a press release, Mendocino County Public Health announced that it is distributing free tests through community groups in Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg. Interested residents can call 707-472-2759 for more information.

You can reach editor Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @ AndrewGraham88

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