The latest must-have for luxury residences? COVID rapid tests

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“The last thing you want to do when you think you have COVID is run around trying to find a test,” Christine Marcus, CEO of Alchemista, who was a high-end office caterer, told the Before Times. “It seemed like such a basic thing that we could do to give people peace of mind.”

Kits sit alongside Alchemista’s offering of fresh meals, snacks, CBD products and homewares – everything from baked bread and dishwashing soap to deodorant and locally sourced mushroom risotto. . Each home antigen test can be purchased by residents or their visitors who scan a QR code to see the “menu” and then pay by credit card.

Forget infinity pools, waterfront views and fitness centers.

“This is what real gear looks like in my mind,” Marcus said.

It’s a response to a nationwide shortage that has left millions of Americans searching for the tests that determine if they’ve contracted the virus. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has planned to expand testing sites, and federal officials have moved to ease the standoff this week.

Juan Martinez demonstrated an alchemist “medallion” at Revere’s Beach House.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The testing rush also comes amid another worrying wave of COVID: Cases and hospitalizations in Massachusetts have risen along with Omicron infections since the start of the holiday season. Levels of COVID detected in sewage, an early indicator of escalating cases, have recently reached record highs.

That’s probably why selling the home tests inside the buildings themselves has been successful, Marcus said. After Monday’s launch, some medallions need to be replenished with rapid tests twice a day to meet demand.

Karissa Montanaro, Beach House’s property manager, said a medallion in the club room was filled with 90 rapid tests on Tuesday. By Wednesday, dozens had disappeared.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

But the existence of vending machines full of rapid tests in luxury buildings, when so many people cannot find them, drew criticism from public health experts who spoke to the Globe. Alchemista medallions tend to reside in high-end residences, like North End. The winner and Edison on the Charleswhere one-bedroom apartments start at around $2,700 per month.

Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center, said the effort shows, once again, how socioeconomic status is a factor in the pandemic.

“COVID uncovered this huge equity issue that was there all along,” she said. “And here we have a situation where the already privileged get an extra layer of protection in their communities, while the underserved communities don’t have the same access.”

The kits were selling for $12 each on Monday, Marcus said, although their cost rose slightly due to supply constraints from Alchemista distributors. Montanaro cited a price of $22, while a Globe reporter found a medallion selling tests for $30 each.

And if daily purchases are capped, this cap is generous: 12 kits per person per day. (The company also shipped an initial batch of orders to corporate customers on Friday, bolstering their ability to test workers before returning to the office.)

Marcus came up with the project after contracting a mild case of COVID in November while visiting family in Texas. A relative had tested positive, but Marcus couldn’t find a test for days. Her two children experienced the same situation a few weeks later.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said, was when a friend with two young children stood in line for a PCR for four hours on Christmas Eve, then discovered that the center was exhausted.

“It shouldn’t be,” Marcus said. “It has the same impetus behind the original medallion concept: to make things very practical and change the paradigm of what demand means.”

His 10-person company originally hosted buffet lunches and corporate events for offices — not apartment buildings — in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., until the pandemic shifted indefinitely. workers to their homes. Next, a combination of medallions inspired by creativity and necessity.

Good intentions aside, Alchemista’s rapid test supply raises questions about why supply problems are rampant in Massachusetts and beyond, Doron said.

“Is the problem really supply, or is it hoarding?” she asked. “Big companies seem to be able to get the tests, as long as they order in large quantities. This leaves the individual consumer out of luck.

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Alchemista operates vending machines in luxury apartment buildings that are now stocked with rapid COVID-19 tests.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Cybil Ubiem, who oversees the COVID center at Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center in Dorchester, praised Alchemista’s efforts to increase access to testing — with one caveat.

“Giving people rapid tests makes it easier for them to know their status and not infect others,” he said. “But these tests are also badly needed in Dorchester and many other areas. These people want to protect their family and their community as well. And some can’t afford it.

But Marcus is focused on doing good where she can. Access and distribution testing are now the most pressing issues of the pandemic, she agreed. And Alchemista’s first move was to help its customers: office and apartment buildings with a higher price tag.

She hopes the government will take advantage of new technologies, like the medallion, to ease testing capacity issues more broadly.

“Luxury happens to be our target market,” Marcus said. “Our technology can be applied anywhere.”


Diti Kohli can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.

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