Can’t find a COVID test in Philly? City advises people with symptoms to ‘act like you are positive’

City residents wait in a line extending around the block to receive free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits in Philadelphia

City residents wait in a line extending around the block to receive free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits in Philadelphia, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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As Philadelphians try to navigate the holiday season and the omicron surge, at-home COVID-19 tests remain hard to come by.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health had to cancel a rapid test giveaway last week, after running out of tests due to high demand at earlier pop-up giveaways.

Philly isn’t the only city facing an at-home testing shortage. Supplies are low across the country. Nationwide, people are also facing long lines at testing sites and long wait times to make testing appointments.

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On Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office acknowledged these challenges and offered guidance for Philadelphia residents who can’t find COVID-19 tests.

“The most important thing to do if you are experiencing symptoms and cannot get tested is to act like you are positive,” the city advised in a press statement. “Stay home and isolate yourself from others in your home until at least ten days have passed since your symptoms began AND you are feeling better AND you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.”

The Centers for Disease Control changed its guidance for isolation and quarantine on Monday, recommending people with the virus leave isolation after five days if they are asymptomatic, down from 10 days. People exposed to the virus can also leave quarantine after five days.

In response, the Philadelphia Health Department said it will be following the new CDC guidance. It says to expect an update to the department’s official guidance in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s health department has ordered tens of thousands more rapid, at-home testing kits over the past several weeks, but those orders have been delayed, spokesperson James Garrow told WHYY News on Monday.

He said the White House has purchased most at-home testing kits in the U.S. as part of its own effort to mail half a billion free kits to people who request them, starting in January.

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“We are searching for new vendors and products to purchase,” Garrow said. “As soon as we get more tests in, we hope to start planning new distribution efforts.”

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is “now far higher than at any point in the last two years, and emergency departments are packed with people with COVID symptoms,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement. “I cannot stress enough how important it is that Philadelphians who are not yet fully vaccinated and boosted take all possible precautions now.”

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Philadelphia increased by 46% over the past two weeks, though the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has stayed relatively flat in Pennsylvania as a whole, according to The New York Times’ tracker.

In New Jersey, where COVID-19 hospitalizations are up more than 50%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be setting up a federal surge testing site, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The location and timeline for opening the site have not yet been determined.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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