If you have tried to buy a homeat a national pharmacy chain in the past few weeks, you’ve probably dropped out. It’s not going to get any easier any time soon either, as schools are once again welcoming students for face-to-face learning, while the Omicron variant — fueling more demand for regular testing and further pressure on testing supplies.
But some savvy consumers have discovered thatare available from an unlikely source: telemedicine company Ro. Founded in 2017 under the name Roman, the company billed itself as a men’s healthcare company that offers discreet treatments for conditions such as erectile dysfunction and hair loss.
Visit Ro’s website and you can purchase up to 12 packs of Intrivo Diagnostics On/Go COVID-19 rapid antigen self-test kit per transaction. The only catch is that the $30 kits for two tests are slightly more expensive than currently unavailable variants, such as Abbott Labs’ BinaxNow antigen self-test kit, which retails for $23.99 when in stock at CVS Pharmacy .
Driven by Omicron, the number of COVID-19 cases in the US has skyrocketed, with the number of positive cases reaching their highest since the beginning of the. The seven-day average of new cases has risen to nearly 340,000 from 187,000 a week ago, according to data from TD Securities.
As a result, every variant of the COVID-19 home test on CVS Pharmacy’s website is currently sold out. Abbott’s BinaxNow kit, Quidel’s QuickVue home test kit, Orasure’s Inteliswab rapid test kit and FlowFlex version are also all sold out on Walgreens’ website.
Product availability tracker Nowinstock.net, which does the digital work for consumers, also indicates that almost every variety of COVID-19 home tests are sold out in the sprawling online shopping landscape.
According to product trackers, COVID-19 tests are currently among the most popular and most difficult items to secure, alongside video game consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony’s Playstation and Nintendo’s Switch.
“I’ve been getting requests since the start of the new year,” Jonathan Allen, a product tracking expert better known by his social media account “Deliver NinjaCBS told MoneyWatch. “It seems that once Christmas was out of the way, people started focusing again on the current event — this virus.”
The popular coupon app Honey Listsamong the items most viewed by users, including tests from Binax, QuickVue, Homeflex, and InteliSwab. Other tracking apps, including ZooLert and Brickseek, have also begun monitoring test kit availability.
Ro co-founder and CEO Zachariah Reitano said the On/Go test kit was among the company’s top three most requested products and services during the holiday season. Unlike other healthcare companies, including pharmacies, it is confident in its ability to keep the tests in stock and serve consumers during peak periods.
“Our patients kept asking for tests and we worked with the makers of the On/Go test to provide them,” Reitano said. “They invested heavily in production capacity, even when the cases were ebb and flow in the potential case where there was a much more contagious variant that was spreading quickly.”
Growth in distribution centers
Ro ended the year with 10 distribution centers in the US, compared to just three earlier this year, enabling rapid delivery of time-sensitive tests.
“We had pharmacists and pharmacy assistants come over during the holiday season and worked 12-18 hours a day to make sure our patients got their COVID tests on time,” Reitano added. He also does not expect the test kits to run out any time soon.
While shipping individual test kits is costly for Ro, which pays for expedited shipping and only makes a profit when it ships tests in bulk, Reitano said the cost is worth it “to make sure people get it as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, the test kits have helped Ro gain many new customers who Reitano hopes will also look to the company to meet their health needs. Ro now has a range of offerings that go beyond men’s sexual wellness to include fertility services, mental health services and home diagnostic testing for men and women.
“We’ve started offering the tests to our members and other people have signed up,” Reitano said. “Hopefully as we add new products and services they will look at us and know they are getting affordable prices and we don’t plan to take advantage of every moment.”
—Irina Ivanova contributed to this report.