RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the Biden administration prepares to make 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests available to send to people’s homes, an expert at Duke University said Tuesday it’s an important step that should have happened sooner. 

“Unfortunately, as a country, we’ve been behind with a lot of testing resources for the whole pandemic. We’ve gotten better. But, it would have been nice to see this kind of program rolled out six or nine months ago,” said Tom Denny, chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.  

With the omicron variant spreading quickly, the CDC said it now accounts for 73 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.  

Health officials are urging people to get tested before gathering for the holidays. Demand for those tests has surged once again. 

Testing appointments are filling quickly, and stores are running out of rapid tests. CBS 17 stopped by a dozen pharmacies in Raleigh on Tuesday, finding the rapid tests available for sale only at one of those locations.  

“That should not be the case today. We’ve talked about for two years now making testing more available, and I’m just disappointed,” Denny said, adding that he had purchased rapid tests at the end of last week for his family to use on Christmas Day as they get together.  

“Clearly we have to change that,” he said. “Policymakers thought, ‘Well, we have vaccines. We’re gonna solve this and we don’t have to put as much focus on testing.’ But, I think we’ve had many months to see there’s a lot of people that are just not taking the vaccine. And, I’m not sure we’re going to change their mind.” 

Denny noted evidence is showing the omicron variant is about as contagious as measles, making early detection critical.  

“The more this virus is able to transmit from one person to another, and this keeps going, the more potential there is for new mutations to develop,” he said. 

The free rapid tests the Biden administration is preparing to send will not be available until January. A website will be set up where people can request them.  

In addition to mailing out the rapid tests, the administration announced other steps Tuesday, some of which include: establishing more federal testing sites, using the Defense Production Act to accelerate production of more tests, mobilizing 1,000 more troops to help overburdened hospitals, and deploying more ventilators to states. 

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has a website where you can request a testing kit to be mailed to your home. The kit includes a PCR test, which has to be mailed to a lab to be processed in order to get the results.  

Incoming DHHS Sec. Kody Kinsley said at a briefing Monday that the state has been in touch with labs across the state, and they’re prepared to increase capacity as demand for testing surges again. 

He said during this summer’s delta surge that labs in North Carolina were processing as many as 86,000 tests a day. 

“We are continuing to secure more testing resources and will make those available. We know in preparation for travel, keeping our schools open, protecting our health care workforce, testing is an important tool,” Kinsley said. “We have been speaking often with many of our labs that perform testing in the state. They’ve all indicated that they have significant room to grow as far as the type of testing they can provide.” 

If you’re interested in finding a testing location and checking availability for appointments, you can check online.