However, the tests are already gone from many U.S. pharmacies, and the manufacturers say it will take weeks for them to resume production after scaling back due to falling demand this summer.
Another reminder is the recent shortage that the U.S. has not been able to manage its COVID-19 testing program in a systematic manner to rapidly stop outbreaks in schools and workplaces.
Experts believe encouraging signs from last spring have led to false confidence in the shrinking role of tests: declining case numbers, rising vaccination rates, and guidance by health officials that people could largely skip testing. Recently officials reversed this advice after cases and deaths caused by the delta variant soared.
Mara Aspinall, an Arizona State University researcher in health and a leading authority on COVID-19 supplies, stated, "There was a mixture of optimism and hubris" that led us to believe that the worst was over.
Colorado's Mesa County has been among those local governments to stop offering rapid testing as part of their free general public programs.
Stefany Busch, a spokeswoman for the county, stated that there were shortages of tests in the county. She said that supplies are being prioritized for school districts so they can have quick turnarounds for testing and help them if necessary. It is important to note that results from tests that are done in laboratories, which can take longer, remain available.
Parts of the U.S. testing infrastructure are actually doing better than they were during previous surges. Large commercial labs, which process most of the tests done at hospitals and testing sites, still have plenty of capacity. LabCorp, one the largest laboratory chains, stated last week that it could deliver results for 150,000 tests per day, and has the potential to double that number.
However, rapid tests still have the advantage of being able to be done anywhere with a 20-minute turnaround. Most school testing programs still depend on lab tests, which can return results within a few days.