Philadelphia cancels rapid test giveaway as supplies wane

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)

The Philadelphia Health Department canceled its giveaway of rapid COVID-19 tests, scheduled for Thursday, after demand at earlier giveaways depleted its supplies.

A department spokesperson announced late Wednesday that the giveaway scheduled for Waterview Recreation Center in the city’s East Germantown neighborhood would be canceled because of a lack of tests, but that the city would move forward with a free vaccine clinic at the center.

The department began giving away tests Saturday at a series of community events that have seen high demand and people waiting in long lines to get the kits.

The department had a goal of distributing 24,000 kits — each with two tests — before Christmas. And through the events and distribution at nine city walk-up vaccine clinics, a spokesperson said, the department had distributed “virtually all” its rapid test supplies.

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The department ordered more last week as supplies waned, but officials were unsure Wednesday when those orders would be filled because of high demand nationwide and shortages. Several national pharmacy chains also announced Wednesday that they were limiting per-person purchase amounts of the rapid at-home tests, also due to shortages.

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.

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 move forward 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.

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