Where Can You Get a Rapid COVID Test in Boston Right Now?
Here's what we know about where to find the suddenly highly sought after tests.
When it comes to rapid at-home COVID tests in Boston, the situation has gotten pretty dire, pretty quickly.
Just a few short days ago, at least out here in East Boston, rapid tests were in ample supply. My local CVS had at least two full crates of them available for purchase right next to the cash register. I grabbed two last week, just to be safe, and a box of QuickVue tests—complete with a pair of nose swabs, vials of liquid, and testing strips—now sits on my desk. The plan is to save it for Christmas Eve.
I can remember watching as supply dwindled in NYC, and heard dispatches from friends about lines snaking around the block for the chance to get swabbed, but figured such a fate would surely not be possible here. Then over the weekend reality set in: Rapid tests, our best shot at catching the Omicron variant in time to keep us from infecting family members over the holidays, have gotten much, much, harder to find.
So if you’re in a pinch and need a test this week, or if you’re trying to be as safe as possible about getting together with loved ones this weekend, what’s a Bostonian to do?
For one, supply appears to be a crapshoot at pharmacies and other retail stores, and any available tests are flying off the shelves almost immediately. Pharmacies across Boston, expecting hordes of shoppers looking for them, have begun posting apologetic signs outside their front doors. Consider asking the staff at your local store when restock day is. (A colleague says a tip from the staff at a Somerville Walgreens that they expected to receive new shipments on Wednesdays helped her snag one this week). So keep your eyes peeled for over-the-counter options as they emerge. They tend to cost around $25.
Meanwhile, Boston has begun handing out free at-home COVID tests across the city, at Boston Public Library branches and locations of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families. The effort is part of a state-run campaign to distribute more than 2 million take-home tests free of charge ahead of the holiday.
Starting today, we are now distributing free rapid COVID tests in select locations. This pilot program includes the following branches:
Copley, Brighton, Codman, Grove Hall, East Boston, Mattapan, South Boston, Roslindale, Roxbury
Learn more: https://t.co/RZRILGUWqA
— Boston Public Library (@BPLBoston) December 20, 2021
According to the Boston Public Health Commission website, residents are invited to grab up to one box of two tests per household member at the following locations in ten neighborhoods.
Get there early. Over the past few days libraries have been running out of tests within a couple hours every morning. BPL is now suggesting that anyone hoping to secure a test call ahead first.
Experiences will vary from location to location. Some branches, like Copley, have seen long lines. At least in East Boston this morning, there was no line at all.
Here’s which branches to visit:
- Boston Public Library Central, 700 Boylston Street
- BPL Brighton Branch, 40 Academy Hill
- BPL Codman Branch, 690 Washington Street
- BPL Grove Hall Branch, 41 Geneva Ave
- BPL East Boston Branch, 365 S. Bremen Street
- BCYF Paris Street, 112 Paris Street
- BCYF Hyde Park, 1179 River Street
- BPL Mattapan Branch, 1350 Blue Hill Avenue
- BCYF Mildred Avenue, 5 Mildred Avenue
- BCYF Tobin, 1481 Tremont Street
- BPL South Boston Branch, 646 E Broadway
- BPL Roslindale Branch, 4246 Washington Street
- BPL Roxbury Branch, 149 Dudley St
- BCYF Shelburne Branch, 2730 Washington Street
President Biden has announced a plan to distribute 500 million free rapid tests throughout the country, but that won’t begin until January.
Elsewhere, efforts to distribute free COVID tests vary community-by-community. NBC10 Boston reports Revere has been giving out its allotment of 27,000 tests at food distribution centers, nonprofits, and churches. Quincy has distributed them at shelters and via the local health department, where they can be reserved with a phone call. In Chelsea, the group La Colaborativa was embarking on an effort to distribute 8,000 tests in that city.
Boston is also continuing to run testing clinics at multiple locations, some of which require appointments, and some of which are currently accepting walk-ins. Reports on the ground, though, show that the lines at these locations have gotten pretty significant.
UPDATE: Line here in Harvard Square for COVID testing is still wrapped around the block. Site closes at 6 – but they say they’ll test everyone who is in line at 6 pm. People are rushing to get PCR tests for holiday. pic.twitter.com/KOR0ZjY3vI
— Kathryn Sotnik NBC10 Boston (@KatNBCBoston) December 19, 2021
As for how the major pharmacies are handling the shortage, I’m hearing you’ll have to be patient. “Due to a recent increase in demand related to a surge of increasing COVID-19 cases, and to retain community-based access to tests in our stores, there may be temporary out of stocks for these products online at CVS.com,” a CVS spokesperson says in an email. “We are committed to providing families with protection and peace of mind during the holiday season, and we continue to offer access to lab-based testing with results available in 1-2 days or rapid COVID-19 testing at more than 4,800 CVS Pharmacy locations.”
It was a similar situation at Walgreens. “Following Thanksgiving and leading into the upcoming holiday week, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in demand for rapid OTC COVID-19 tests across the country and are working with our suppliers to ensure customers have access to self-test kits through the holidays, ” a spokesperson says, also by email. “Some stores may experience a temporary shortage in rapid OTC testing solutions. For consumers looking for specific items, Walgreens.com updates with the latest available store inventory information frequently throughout the day.”
Walgreens also says it’s implementing a new four-item purchase limit on tests due to the strain on supply.
So if your local library can’t help you out, you may want to keep refreshing those pharmacy sites to check for inventory updates—but consider calling to confirm their listed supply is accurate before heading over.