Skip to content
Therese Raphael

Why Is It So Hard to Get a Rapid Covid Test in the U.S.?

The U.S. dragged its feet on lateral flow tests and is now struggling with supply problems when they’re needed most.

Make it quick.

Make it quick.

Photographer: JACK GUEZ/AFP

When the travel ban was finally lifted this month, Brits visiting the U.S. got a shock. Not only were rapid Covid tests hard to find; prices were at rip-off levels. A survey conducted by the Independent newspaper found an antigen test at Orlando International Airport cost $65; it was $75 in San Francisco and $100 in a Washington, D.C. travel clinic.

By contrast, antigen home test kits are provided free of charge from Britain’s National Health Service and come in a box of seven tests that can be picked up at local pharmacies (airport tests are around 35 pounds or $46.88). The tests are useful in areas where the virus is surging. Some schools make antigen tests mandatory before a parent-teacher meeting; they can be required for a hospital visit or for entering a nursing home.