At-home COVID tests are hard to come by

Demand for COVID tests has spiked with some clinics fully booked for the PCR tests and stores selling out of at-home antigen tests as people try to take safety precautions ahead of holiday travel and gatherings.  

"We just wanted to get tested in advance of the holidays and getting together with family," said Jenny Flores of Berkeley.

Flores and her daughter Angie went to a mobile COVID testing site in downtown Berkeley for a free PCR test.

"They just give you the little swab and then you just do it yourself," said Angie, a third grader. "It was fine. I mean, it doesn't really hurt."

President Biden announced a plan Tuesday to increase testing sites and spend money to secure 500 million at-home COVID antigen tests to distribute free to Americans nationwide.

"I think that we should be prioritizing testing and not just relying on vaccines as the only strategy," said Marissa Wu of Berkeley, who says she goes weekly for surveillance testing at the mobile clinic.

"I think it's great use of taxpayers' dollars because you can't really get them at the store. We tried yesterday they're sold out," said Flores.

Down the street, the Walgreens pharmacy was sold out of at-home COVID tests. The shelves were empty and a sign at the pharmacy window said they were out of stock.

Shoppers faced the same shortage at the CVS pharmacy nearby where the shelf was bare.

"My wife just bought a ton of those two or three weeks ago. So, we've got them all stocked up," said Andrew Levy, and Oakland resident who says his wife returned from a trip to Iowa and wanted to take a test to be safe before returning to her work as a hairdresser.

"I think it would be really useful and helpful just for the state of mind to make sure you're not infecting others," said Remy Miantezila, a Berkeley resident who approves of having free at-home tests.

The at-home rapid antigen tests detect small antigens or proteins from the virus in your nose and take about 15 minutes to get results.

Dr. Michael Stacy of LifeLong Medical Care says timing is important.

"The timing of the test matters. So if you have been exposed today and get a negative test today, that's not likely to be meaningful," said Dr. Stacey, "It's going to be more accurate if you test 3-5 days after that exposure."

Some studies found antigen tests can catch about 89% of COVID infections. They are less sensitive than the PCR lab tests, however, and Dr. Stacey says in general, COVID testing is just one tool of many needed in the fight against the pandemic.

"Tests are not perfect, they're not the only answer," said Dr. Stacey, "And so as we use all of the tools at our disposal, testing, vaccination, wearing masks."

The FDA has given Emergency Use Authorization to 41 at-home antigen tests. Health officials say it's important to use one of the tests on the list because they have undergone a scientific review by the FDA.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or