How many at-home COVID tests should you stockpile? Depends on your exposure, CT experts say

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As sold-out pharmacy shelves continue to display the signs of a nationwide shortage of at-home COVID-19 tests, officials in Connecticut are advising residents against stockpiling more kits than they plan on using.

Stocks of at-home test kits have been completely sold-out at many pharmacies and retail stores across the state for weeks, sending many residents looking to purchase tests online — where shipments can take weeks — or waiting in long lines for some of the millions of free tests being distributed by the state.

For Connecticut residents who are able to find tests for sale, experts recommended keeping enough around the home to use in a given week. For many individuals and families, that means a stockpile of no more than one or two tests at a time.

Art Caplan, a Ridgefield resident and founder of New York University’s Langone Division of Medical Ethics, said the line between responsible testing and hoarding depends largely on a person’s day-to-day activities and likelihood of exposure.

“That answer depends on what you do,” Caplan said. “If you're a health care worker, waitress, teacher, you might want to keep enough at-home tests so you can test once a week.”

But those who work from home shouldn’t be stockpiling as many tests, he said.

“If you work from home, like I do, what I need is maybe two tests for the month and they’re mainly for me to take a look in case somebody comes into the house that might have carried the virus in,” he said.

The strained-supply for at-home testing has also led to rising prices for the kits, which typically sell for between $15 and $30.

At least eight complaints about price gouging of at-home tests have been submitted to Attorney General William Tong’s office, including reports of prices above $75, according to a spokesperson, who noted the complaints do not indicate whether a violation actually occurred.

In a statement, Tong expressed sympathy for those unable to obtain at-home test kits, saying he also had a difficult time finding tests for his family around the holidays. Tong said his office has not received any complaints related to hoarding of tests.

“These are the types of stressful moments, in the middle of a supply-chain crunch, that scammers try to exploit,” Tong said. “Make sure you are buying what you need, and only what you need, and working only with reputable sellers.”

In order to discourage hoarding and maintain their limited stocks, local and national retailers have capped the number of test kits customers may purchase at one time.

CVS, for example, is limiting purchases to six kits at a time, according to a spokesperson, while Walgreens is capping purchases at four tests per customer. Stew Leonard’s — which briefly became one of few retailers in the state to recently have a large stock of at-home tests — also imposed a four-kit limit before its supply was exhausted.

Municipalities and school districts throughout the state also placed limits on the distribution of tests, after they were tasked with distributing hundreds of thousands of test kits acquired by state officials since the start of the year.

State public health officials have not issued any formal guidance to limit the number of tests being handed out to individual households, though Max Reiss, a spokesperson for Gov. Ned Lamont, said the administration is encouraging “common sense,” for people seeking to keep a small supply of tests at home.

“A test that’s not being used, is not a good use of a test,” Reiss said. “People shouldn’t be having around four, five, six, seven, eight test kits as a ‘just in case.’”

Ajay Kumar, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare, also said stockpiling test kits could hamper the larger effort to make widespread and regular testing available for the public.

“I think folks should have one or two kits if you're able to get a handle on them and use them wisely,” Kumar said.

Neither CVS nor Walgreens provided an estimate for when supplies of at-home test kits would become more readily available at their pharmacies when asked by Hearst Connecticut Media.