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Doctors suggest getting a rapid COVID-19 test before gathering for Thanksgiving

As families gather for Thanksgiving, doctors suggest using over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 tests for peace of mind.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Families want to share a meal over Thanksgiving — not COVID-19. That’s why public health experts recommend people take a rapid test before gathering — for health, safety and peace of mind.

Rapid tests, also called antigen tests, are available at retail pharmacies including Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid. They return results in 10-20 minutes, depending on the test.

Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said rapid tests are especially good at detecting COVID-19 in people who are having symptoms, so people can learn whether that stuffy nose is just part of a cold —  or something worse.

"Being able to do a rapid test helps, because that tells you if somebody is infectious,” Kasirye said. "We’re encouraging people to use it, especially as they're preparing to travel during the holidays."

Yolo County’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Aimee Sisson, agrees that testing before gathering is a good idea.

"I know that the supply has increased over the last several months; production has improved," Sisson said, of over-the-counter rapid test availability. "But I also think demand is at an all-time high right now because of Thanksgiving and a lot of people wanting to test before they gather because that is part of the public health recommendations for people who aren't fully vaccinated."

Earlier this fall, people reported having trouble finding these over-the-counter rapid tests at pharmacies, with high demand and limited supply.

Now, however, “rapid tests are definitely easier to get now than they were a couple of months ago,” Kasirye said, although she added that people wanting to take one before a Thanksgiving gathering should purchase it as soon as possible since many people are planning to test on or before the Thursday holiday.

ABC10 checked availability at four different pharmacies across Elk Grove and South Sacramento, and three of the four had tests available. As of early Wednesday afternoon, this is what we found:

  • CVS at Mack Road and Valley Hi Drive in South Sacramento (6401 Mack Rd): two brands of rapid test available, each $23.99, with two tests per box
  • Walgreens at Elk Grove Florin Road and Bond Road in Elk Grove (9200 Elk Grove Florin Rd): three brands of rapid test available, each $23.99, with two tests per box
  • Rite Aid at Gerber Road and Power Inn Road in Sacramento County (7860 Gerber Rd): freshly sold out of rapid tests
  • Rite Aid at Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road in South Sacramento (5610 Stockton Blvd): one brand of test available, at the pharmacy counter

Tests are available, people just might have to make a couple of stops if the first drugstore they visit is sold out. They can also look online, although it won't get to them by Thanksgiving at this point.

In a statement to ABC10, CVS said it offers the Abbott BinaxNOW, Pixel by LabCorp and Quidel Quickvue over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 rapid tests at CVS Pharmacy and on CVS.com.

Walgreens told ABC10 the chain continues to see, “increased demand for 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,” both in-store and online, adding that the latest inventory information for specific stores is frequently updated on Walgreens’ website.

Rite Aid told ABC10 its stores, too, are seeing “increasingly high demand for rapid testing over the last two weeks…As we receive shipments, Rite Aid is quickly making rapid, at-home testing kits available in stores and at riteaid.com.”

Rapid tests are also available at many community clinics.

At the South Sacramento Christian Center’s weekly Wednesday free testing and vaccine clinic, Tashica McIntyre and her dad Carlee McIntyre got a rapid test.

"My father traveled here from Mississippi to spend time with us for Thanksgiving,” Tashica McIntyre explained. “I wanted to make sure that I'm safe to be around my family and my elder, so we came and got tested today."

Her dad, who shared that he is vaccinated and has received his booster shot, said he gets tested two to three times per month, “Whether I think I've been exposed or not…because I could be the one carrying it and exposing other people to the disease, and I truly do not want that."

Both father and daughter had advice for people gathering with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

"I just recommend that everyone comes out and gets tested,” Tashica McIntyre said. “And if you think that you've been exposed or you're waiting on your test results, stay away from other people."

Her father said he sees getting tested as a moral imperative.

"To me, it is really negligent when we are not testing, when they ask you the question all the time, 'Have you been exposed?' but you don't know if you've been exposed or not. So it's better to be safe than sorry," he said. "I feel a lot better when I get to test and get the negative results."

That echoes what public health officials are saying.

"Err on the side of caution,” Sisson said. “If you have symptoms, you're not sure, you don't have access to the test-- just go ahead and stay home. Don't take that chance."

Watch: AAA shares some holiday travel tips as Californians hit the roads and sky