At-home COVID tests are hard to find in Iowa. Here's a guide on where you can get a test
With the omicron variant fueling a COVID surge that's resulted in higher daily case counts and more concurrent hospitalizations than seen at any point in 2021, COVID tests are in high demand across Iowa.
On Monday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported about 15,000 new positive tests since its last update on Friday, Jan. 7. The statewide 14-day positivity rate was 20%, or about one in five tests coming back positive. That suggests tens of thousands of Iowans are taking COVID tests, meaning they may be hard to find in some locations.
There are two primary types of COVID tests: PCR tests, which search for the genetic material of the coronavirus, must be analyzed in a lab and take longer to report results; and rapid antigen tests, which look for protein fragments from the coronavirus and produce quicker results but are generally considered less reliable.
Some stores offer take-home versions of both PCR and antigen tests, but availability is limited in the Des Moines area. Over-the-counter home PCR tests may cost $100 or more, while antigen tests are available for prices between $10 and $40.
Users should check whether their health insurance plans cover the cost of over-the-counter tests. Beginning this week, health insurers will be required to offer reimbursement under a plan from President Joe Biden.
At-home COVID-19 test kits are in short supply in Iowa
As of Monday, both home PCR test kits and home rapid antigen tests were out of stock and not available for shipping through Walgreens and CVS websites. The CVS website showed available rapid antigen tests in-store at some Des Moines-area locations. An automated response to calls to Walgreens warned that, due to high demand, take-home test availability was limited, and customers were advised to visit their local store or check online to purchase kits.
A statement from Walgreens said the chain was continuing to enforce a four-item limit on COVID testing products due to increased demand.
Walgreens had appointments available for in-person PCR testing at some locations, according to its website. The store advertises free, contactless testing, but customers must make an appointment on the Walgreens website.
At Hy-Vee, in-person testing is also available by scheduling an appointment online. Tina Potthoff, Hy-Vee's senior vice president of communications, cautioned most same-day appointments are taken, and customers are more likely to be able to get an appointment if they're able to go to different locations or schedule the test one or two days in the future.
At-home test availability may also be limited at Hy-Vee. "We are continuing to order as much as we can to meet demand," Potthoff said. "As quickly as the tests come in, they are selling right away."
Appointments available for in-person testing in Des Moines area
Iowans who are able to schedule and travel to an in-person appointment for testing have several options. In addition to the pharmacies above, GS Labs is offering in-person rapid and PCR testing at 3448 Westown Pkwy. in West Des Moines.
If not insured, rapid antigen tests at GS Labs cost $179 out-of-pocket, and typically produce results within 30 minutes. PCR tests cost $229 without insurance and yield results in three to five days, depending on volume.
As of Monday afternoon, appointments were available through the GS Labs website beginning about 24 hours in advance. In a statement Friday, Jan. 7, spokesperson David Leibowitz said the company plans to add capacity to meet increased demand.
Nomi Health is offering in-person PCR tests at Hoover High School (4915 Madison Ave. in Des Moines) and the Kurtz Opportunity Center (1000 Porter Ave. in Des Moines), as well as at locations in Council Bluffs and Liberty.
Iowans can schedule appointments online at nomihealth.com/iowa. Some same-day appointments were available on Monday. The Hoover location has capacity to test 450 people per day, and the Kurtz Opportunity Center location can test 300 per day, according to a release from Nomi Health.
Free take-home kits through Test Iowa
Iowans can request free at-home PCR tests through the Test Iowa program at testiowa.com. Iowans may request a test shipped to their address or can pick one up at locations listed on the program website.
"While Test Iowa At Home collection kits remain available across the state, the State Hygienic Laboratory and the Iowa Department of Public Health are monitoring supplies alongside test kit orders," said Sarah Ekstrand, spokesperson with the Iowa Department of Public Health, in an email. "The current surge could affect Test Iowa kit availability for brief periods of time."
Ekstrand asked Iowans who already have test kits to use the ones they already have before ordering any additional kits.
Once the test is returned to the State Hygienic Laboratory through UPS or other drop-off locations, Test Iowa says results should typically be available within 24 hours, but Ekstrand said the current surge has caused the average wait time to increase to 30 hours, as of Monday.