How easy is it to find at-home COVID-19 tests in Milwaukee County? How reliable are they?

NOW: How easy is it to find at-home COVID-19 tests in Milwaukee County? How reliable are they?

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Nationwide, skyrocketing demand for rapid COVID-19 tests is leading retailers to raise prices. CBS 58 wanted to find out if this is also the case locally, but we discovered the bigger question is: Can you even find an at-home test?

A CBS 58 crew visited 10 large retailers in Milwaukee County -- a combination of Pick 'N Save, Metro Market, Walgreens, Target, Menards and CVS stores. Out of the 10 stores, which spanned Wauwatosa to Cudahy, only one had any at-home COVID-19 tests in stock. The store was a north side Walgreens near 35th and Wisconsin, and only three testing kits were in stock as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5.

The other stores had empty shelves and signs notifying customers that they're out of rapid tests.

CBS 58 even visited two stores, a Walgreens and a Target, where the website showed rapid tests were in stock, but we found that was not the case.

"The problem right now is that there are so many people with symptoms," said Dr. Dan Shirley, interim medical director for infection prevention at UW Health. "Hopefully, this is a short-term problem of not having supply or access to the other testing."

On Wednesday evening, Hayat Pharmacy announced on Facebook that it now carries Flowflex at-home testing kits for $24.99 each.

Shirley said PCR tests, like the ones used at Milwaukee community testing sites, are preferable over rapid tests, but there's been huge demand for mass testing sites, as well.

"I think what's available is likely the best choice for testing at this point," Shirley said.

"How reliable are the at home tests against Omicron? Do we have any sense at this point?" CBS 58's Rose Schmidt asked Shirley.

"The FDA is studying this and they said there might be a little bit of decrease in sensitivity but it's certainly not that the tests don't find Omicron. It still does, and it's still a good test," he responded.

The test CBS 58 found at Walgreens was $10.

National news outlets have reported that retailers like Walmart and Kroger have hiked up prices to $19.98 and $23.99 a box, respectively, with two tests inside each box. This comes after a deal with the Biden administration to sell them at a lower cost expired last month.

 A spokesperson for Roundy’s Division/The Kroger Co. sent CBS 58 a statement saying, "As you can imagine, there is a great demand for COVID-19 rapid test kits. Our experience has been the product sells out as soon as it arrives in-store. With few exceptions, we are sold out at our store locations across the state. We are doing our best to re-stock when we receive additional shipments of the product; however, the current demand is significant. Our limit is 4 per customer and the cost is $23.99 per test kit."

Shirley said if an at-home test comes back negative and someone is still having symptoms, that person should get a PCR test to make sure. If the test shows a positive result, that person likely has COVID-19 and should isolate.

"(Rapid tests are) often helpful because they're very rapid, easily accessible, but sometimes we have to follow them up with a more sensitive test," he explained.

Doctors are also asking people to avoid going to the hospital to get tested, unless they're experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms such as shortness of breath.

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