Rapid at-home Covid tests going for $80 in US amid the Omicron surge | Coronavirus

With home Covid tests scarce during the Omicron surge, price gouging has begun, and it looks like everyone from restaurants to pet food stores is trying to make money.

Recent reports from Vice revealed that a Manhattan deli announced a quick test of Abbott BinaxNOW (Retail: $24) on its $80 seamless delivery app. Meanwhile, online pet store Pet Foods by Village Farm offered to offer the same type of test for $50, and a liquor store was selling a “Covid fighter package,” including rapid tests and hand sanitizer, for more than 100 dollar .

There have been reports across the country of vendors charging double or triple the normal costs of home Covid tests. The Los Angeles Times reported that a restaurant worker in New York paid $180 for four test kits. Reportedly, a Covid testing site in San Francisco’s Mission area is charging between $99 and $250 for quick tests.

Authorities have warned that this is a growing problem. In a statement issued in December, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, encouraged people to report the price hikes. “Scammers note that if they try to manipulate prices during this new increase, we will not hesitate to take action,” she said, adding that her office has already seen reports of test kits “illicitly sold for more than $40 and up to $70.” for each parcel.

A package of two rapid at-home Covid tests should cost about $25. This week, Walmart and Kroger raised the prices of BinaxNOW Rapid Tests to the market price after a government-mandated $14 temporarily.

A sign in the window of a HEB pharmacy in Texas says "Covid tests are not available."
Pharmacy shelves picked clean from Covid tests as the Omicron variant continues to rise. Photograph: Callahan O’Hare/Reuters

The Biden administration has tried to de-escalate the situation by announcing plans to purchase and distribute 500 meters of free rapid tests, and today said that at-home tests will be reimbursed by insurance companies starting next week.

But, with pharmacy shelves choosing clean and lines at test sites stretching for hours, people may be more willing to pay a premium to get tested.

The situation is reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic, when the emergence of Covid led to a wave of price gouging for personal protective equipment, such as $70 worth of hand sanitizer and N95 masks.

But how much is this legal? According to the United States Public Interest Group, a nonprofit organization focused on consumer issues, “companies are allowed to increase prices for vital supplies during an emergency, but they are not allowed to raise prices excessively to take advantage of the current pandemic.” The group said laws vary from state to state. Others, but raising prices by more than 20% can be considered price gouging.

In California, this number is lower. 10% price tags can be considered price gouging. Violators face fines of up to $10,000 and up to one year in prison.

“You shouldn’t increase prices during an emergency, because people need essential supplies to keep people safe,” said Jane Engstrom, state manager for the California Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization. Engstrom suggests that those who see suspected price gouging file a complaint with their state attorney general — most have a phone number to call or an online submission form.

California expanded its definition of price gouging in 2020 to guard against tactics seen early in the pandemic, such as stocking hand sanitizer and gloves for resale on Amazon. The new legislation closed a loophole in state law that prevented the prosecution of new sellers, including these online sellers.

“No one should be stolen, especially in regards to vital supplies during the pandemic, and price gouging for Covid-19 tests is completely lucrative and should not be tolerated,” Engstrom said.

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