Buying a rapid COVID test in the United States right now can be hard. Pharmacies as well as stores like Walmart and online retailers such as Amazon are selling out of their inventory in a heartbeat. Logistically, finding a COVID test to buy is not unlike trying to buy a perpetually sold out Playstation 5, Xbox Series X, or RTX 3080 graphics card.
In response, over the past week or so multiple Twitter accounts that monitor online retailers for restocks of popular consoles and other electronics have been tweeting out alerts when COVID tests are restocked, too.
“I initially made the switch because I felt like it was the right thing to do. It’s a shame that such crucial items aren’t in stock and I just want to use the platform I have to provide the best info possible,” the administrator of @GPURestocks, an account that usually shares console or graphics card updates, told Motherboard in a Twitter message. “Similarly, that is really all I hope to achieve with it. We can always track consoles, but doing good is part of having a meaningful community and voice.”
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@LordofRestocks, another account, said “Right now we are working diligently to add them as soon as we can. I’ve been down with omicron since this whole escapade started a week or two ago for COVID tests and I’m finally getting back to full health.”
“Aside from my account, we are tracking these tests in our Discord currently and have a ping role set up for them. As for on Twitter, we have our other accounts that we plan to monitor them on 24/7,” they added.
Some restock accounts have always been broader in focus on what items they monitor. @TargetRestock told Motherboard they expanded to COVID tests as well.
“I don't really have a direct genre or type of item that I track, the goal of this page has always been to help people get their high demand items direct from retailers at MSRP. We have alerted everything from baby blankets (see: Ollie world swaddle) to toys and Tesla tequila. I hope to help my followers with their needs, even if it is, unfortunately, covid tests,” they said.
Some restock accounts have posted affiliate links to COVID test listings. @TargetRestock said they make no commission from sales of healthcare items, though.
Unsurprisingly, a vibrant reseller market for COVID tests has emerged, with vendors on Craigslist, clothing reseller DePop, craft market Etsy, and via food delivery sites like Seamless and Grubhub. With PlayStations and graphics cards, bots have been created to automatically buy up restocks from online retailers almost immediately after the items are listed as in stock. At the moment, there's no evidence bots are being used to buy COVID tests for resale.
“As for bots, I know a lot of their developers have actually been banning people and or restricting it in their software in general to avoid happening," @LordofRestocks said. "It’s tough to know if these tests are botted or if the demand is just so high for them that they sell out instantly! I know we just saw the queue implemented for the Binax COVID tests on Walmart’s website which was originally just used for PS5s and Xbox’s but as you can see, they are just as high in demand as other products.”