Dear Miriam | How Many COVID Tests Should I Keep?

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Dear Miriam,

How many COVID tests is it ethical to keep on hand at home?


All Set on Swabs

Dear Swabs,

While there are so many aspects of our current circumstances that would be unrecognizable to our pre-2020 selves, the run on COVID rapid tests is definitely at the top of the list. While other items that have been in short supply during the pandemic, like toilet paper and basic groceries, were at least familiar needs in the “beforetimes,” COVID tests are a whole new category of need, and the tests continue to be hard to find.

The scarcity mindset around tests can be a challenge to overcome, especially when the item in question is both useful and hard to find. And while buying up all the rapid tests you can find whenever you can find them might seem like a way to protect yourself, creating unnecessary demand elsewhere in the market is unproductive to the overall functioning of society.

However, the tipping point of how many is too many varies from person to person. A potential guideline I’m thinking about is that it makes sense to have two packs of two tests each on hand for each member of your household. That means you’re prepared to double test for two separate COVID exposures. It also means that after you use one set, you can have no qualms about going out to replace it immediately.

There are other factors to consider, though: If you or someone in your household works in a high-exposure environment, you may want to have more on hand. If you or someone in your household frequently needs to test to attend work or school, you may want to up your stockpile. If you frequently have visitors inside your home (such as child care providers, home health care aides, or even just family and friends), you may also need more tests than the average person or family.

If you just can’t help buying tests anytime you see them in stock, I get it, I really do. But consider whether you’ll be willing to share with friends and neighbors if someone you know has an exposure and needs one, and how you’ll feel if your supply starts to dwindle.

While you asked about the ethics, the emotional component is not to be underestimated, and if you’re buying tests without a clear use, consider whether there are other ways for you to handle your stress around the uncertainty all around us.

Be well,



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