Thanks to the delta and omicron waves, demand for at-home tests has spiked again. In July, the CDC reversed itself and once again recommended that vaccinated people get tested after exposure to covid, even if they don’t show symptoms. As a result, Abbott’s rapid test revenue picked back up in the third quarter of 2021, and the company is once again racing to scale up its covid test manufacturing capacity.

Like Abbott, other manufactures have also been whipsawed by rapid swings in demand for at-home tests. Across the industry, boosting production will take weeks or months, as test makers race to hire more workers, order raw materials, and contract out packaging, manufacturing, and other functions.

The US government’s plan to buy 500 million at-home tests promises to smooth out some of the uncertainty in demand: No matter what the CDC says and no matter how the virus mutates, manufacturers know they can sell millions of tests to the federal government, at least for the next few months. That guarantee is bolstering manufacturers’ decision to ramp up production now, and it might give them an incentive not to lay off workers and shut down factories if demand for at-home tests ebbs after the omicron wave passes.

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