California Officials Warn Against Price Gouging Of Home Coronavirus Test Kits

With coronavirus tests nearly impossible to find in the Bay Area — and San Francisco health officials saying they will limit testing early this week because of “challenges beyond our control” — California officials are now warning against price gouging for at-home test kits.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert Saturday about sellers charging exorbitant prices for over-the-counter rapid tests, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order over the weekend limiting sellers’ markups. Unauthorized test sites also are becoming a concern, San Francisco health officials warned.

The furious spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, and its ability to infect while causing few or no symptoms, has created a stampede for tests as people seek to learn whether it’s safe for them to be around others.

“Californians are doing their part to confront this challenge — whether by caring for loved ones, getting vaccinated, or working on the front lines — and they shouldn’t have to worry about being cheated while dealing with the effects of coronavirus,” Bonta said in a statement.

Newsom’s order, including the prospect of fines or imprisonment for illegal overpricing, comes amid nationwide reports of price gouging online, with some at-home kits selling for three times the price, and attorneys general in a number of states issuing warnings.

In addition, San Francisco health officials warned Friday against patronizing unauthorized testing facilities, even as the city said it would have to curtail hours at some of its official sites Monday.

“Unauthorized COVID-19 test sites are popping up throughout the city,” the agency tweeted Friday. “We know demand for testing is high. Please use authorized testing sites or FDA-approved rapid tests.”

The department said people should contact their health care providers or go to for more information on where to get tested, and stick to home kits purchased at a store. “People should use caution and not use testing sites that seem too good to be true,” the department advised.

The caution comes as people in San Francisco and all over the Bay Area are reporting difficulties in scheduling or locating PCR tests for the coronavirus or finding at-home rapid tests in stores and pharmacies. Demand for the tests has soared with the rise of omicron after the holidays and as students return to schools.

Popular BinaxNow home test kits, which usually cost $14 to $25 for a two-pack, have reportedly been offered for as much as $70, New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement last month.

In the Bay Area and across the United States, residents have grown frustrated over the lack of available appointments at testing sites and rapid home tests selling out quickly at drugstores such as CVS and Walgreens. Officials have been scrambling to meet the high demand, but it’s unclear when things could get better.

On Sunday, the San Francisco Department of Public Health tweeted that some of its affiliated testing sites would temporarily reduce their hours Monday “due to challenges beyond our control.”

Officials did not elaborate on whether the challenges were related to test supplies, staffing or other factors, and the department did not immediately respond to requests for further information.

“Even with some sites temporarily reducing hours, we have stretched our testing capacity in recent weeks to an all-time high, with some sites more than tripling capacity!” the agency tweeted.

Newsom said last week he plans to ask the Legislature to immediately approve $1.4 billion for pandemic emergency response in his state budget proposal, to boost access to testing, vaccines and support for overwhelmed hospitals.

His executive order Saturday bans sellers from increasing the prices of at-home COVID-19 test kits by more than 10% of what they charged as of Dec. 1. Those who are newly offering the kits cannot mark them up by more than 50% of what they paid for them.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 or six months of imprisonment, or both, and a $2,500 civil fine for violating the Unfair Competition Law, officials said.

Bonta encouraged anyone who either has been a victim of price gouging of at-home test kits or has information about a seller to file a complaint by calling their local police department or sheriff’s office, or filing online at


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