Covid test shortage puts stress on travelers waiting for results

As demand for Covid testing outstrips supply in the U.S., advisors are keeping a close eye on test kit shortages, lab delays and the potential impact on the travel sector.

Jean Newman Glock, managing director of communications and public affairs for Signature Travel Network, called the current Covid testing situation “one of the biggest pain points for travel.”

“The whole testing landscape is the Wild West right now,” said Glock. “I have heard from many of our members that their clients don’t get test results back in time as promised and have to delay flights. Even more confusing has been when two [clients] are tested at the same time and one gets results in time and the other does not.”

In addition to having to wait longer than expected for the results of a PCR test, at-home rapid tests are also proving increasingly difficult to track down.

Leo Friedman, CEO of iPromo, a B2B branded merchandise and corporate gifts supplier that pivoted to sell PPE and Covid tests amid the pandemic, confirmed that at-home rapid tests are in shorter supply these days, due in part to heightened alarm around the spread of Covid’s more infectious delta variant. 

Adding to the frenzy, said Friedman, is President Biden’s recent announcement that the U.S. Department of Labor will require that all employers with 100 or more employees ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week. Consequently, schools, offices and other organizations are scrambling to stockpile tests.

“All through June and July of 2021 we had minimal test sales,” said Friedman. “But then, in August, we saw the number of inquiries increase.”

Between January and mid-July, Friedman reports that iPromo had sold only around 1,000 of the travel-certified rapid tests. Between mid-July and mid-September, however, the company sold 50,000 and is selling “thousands more each day. We’ve now had more inquiries in the first 13 days of September than we had for all of August.”

Friedman added that while iPromo had previously been able to ship out the majority of its bulk Covid tests on the same day that orders were received, shipping times are now delayed by several weeks.

“There are only six companies that make the over-the-counter tests,” said Friedman. “They’re ramping up production in a big way, but right now, there’s definitely a bottleneck.”

  • Related: Planning to get an airport Covid test? It can cost you

Demand for at-home rapid tests that are CDC-approved for travel, such as Abbott’s BinaxNOW Covid-19 Home Test, are also on the rise. Unlike regular at-home rapid tests, these tests are video-guided on virtual platforms and supervised by a trained professional, offering certified results.

Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA — The Auto Club Group, recommends that Covid-era travelers keep a few travel-certified rapid tests, which she said generally retail at around $30 for a two-pack, at the ready.

“There is some scarcity of test availability, so it’s something you want to think about with a long lead time,” said Haas. “My personal best practice is now always having a couple of the home test kits on hand.”

Wait times to connect with the test’s virtual guides have also increased in recent months, added Haas, and travelers should be mindful about allotting a little extra time to complete a travel-certified rapid test.

“Initially, there wasn’t any lag in waiting for the [virtual] proctor,” said Haas. “But my husband did a test two weeks ago, and he had to wait around 15 minutes to get a proctor. I would say in terms of scheduling, give yourself an hour to take the test, just in case.”

Some travel companies, meanwhile, have partnered directly with testing providers in order to smooth over testing-related hurdles.

Frosch, for example, has forged a variety of such relationships throughout the pandemic, linking up with companies like Azova and Vault, which specialize in offering various at-home telehealth and on-site testing services, as well as the medical concierge service Sollis Health, among other providers.

“Early on, we realized the importance of making sure that our clients have easy access to testing, and we recognized this was going to be an incredibly important component when it comes to travel,” said Lara Leibman, executive vice president at Frosch. 

“We’ve also recognized the importance of having options, whether it’s an at-home testing kit from a reputable company like Vault or concierge medical service for someone who is a last-minute traveler and needs that PCR test within 24 hours.”

Prices for testing through Frosch’s partners can range from around $50 to several hundred dollars per person, depending on the number of travelers being tested and whether it’s a self-administered at-home test, a test taken on-site or a concierge service test.

“The other big factor in the cost is how quickly you want the results back,” said Michael Ashendorf, a New York-based independent contractor with Frosch. 

Ashendorf added that location can sometimes play a role in a traveler’s ability to either find a convenient test or get a quick turnaround on lab results.

“It’s somewhat geographically based,” said Ashendorf. “Because New York was a Covid epicenter, for example, it’s been sort of ahead of the curve in that there’s testing on every street corner, but in, say, Boise, Idaho, there might not be as much [testing availability]. So, it can really be all about location, location, location.” 

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