Free COVID tests still available?

Free COVID tests still available?

COVID Test Kits: Don’t Panic, Options Are Still Available

COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have shown a gradual increase in the United States, as two new variants gain a foothold in the nation. With this rise, the demand for COVID test kits has also surged. Fortunately, options still exist for those in need of test kits, even though the U.S. government suspended the pandemic-era program that shipped free COVID-19 tests to Americans.

In late August and early September, hospitalizations rose by nearly 9% and deaths by approximately 11%, according to the latest tracking data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there is hope on the horizon for those seeking testing options, including low- and no-cost alternatives.

Checking the Viability of Existing COVID Tests

Before resorting to other options, it is worthwhile to check whether the COVID test kits you already possess are still viable. Each test kit carries an expiration date, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now suggests that some tests may still be effective past their expiration date based on additional information provided by the manufacturers. To simplify this process, the FDA maintains an online checklist of tests and their extended expiration dates, categorized by lot numbers.

Effectiveness of Current At-Home Tests

Good news for those with at-home tests: experts suggest that the current tests should still be effective in detecting the new Eris variant (EG.5) and the Fornax variant (FL.1.5.1), which together account for over 20% of U.S. infections, according to CDC tracking data. Both these variants are descendants of the Omicron variant, and the current tests are designed to detect a specific part of the COVID virus that is less likely to mutate.

Free Testing Sites for the Cash-Strapped

For individuals who cannot afford at-home tests, free testing sites are available. Even after the official end of the COVID emergency, the federal government continues to support a network of approximately 10,000 free testing sites across the United States. These sites include participating CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Quest Diagnostics patient service centers, and community-based testing sites. The CDC provides a locator website where people can look for local no-cost COVID testing options. Additionally, individuals should check their state or city health department’s website for nearby testing programs.

Insurance Coverage

Individuals who suspect they have COVID-19 should also consider checking if their private health insurance covers the cost of at-home tests or tests performed at a clinic. While some insurers have stopped covering the full cost of at-home tests following the end of the COVID public health emergency, they may still cover a portion of the cost. Verifying insurance coverage at the outset can help manage costs effectively.

The Importance of Timing

Timing is crucial when it comes to COVID testing to ensure accurate results. The CDC recommends that individuals with symptoms should test right away. However, asymptomatic individuals who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 should wait at least five full days before taking a test to ensure enough detectable virus in their system.

If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends self-isolation for a minimum of five days. Additionally, individuals should continue wearing a mask until day 10 after the test is conducted. Those with moderate or severe symptoms of COVID-19 should isolate for a minimum of ten days. However, individuals with severe COVID-19 may remain infectious beyond 10 days and may need to extend isolation for up to 20 days, according to the CDC.

While COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may be on the rise, individuals in need of test kits can still find viable options. From checking the viability of existing test kits to utilizing free testing sites and exploring insurance coverage, there are avenues available for everyone. With the right timing and precautions, individuals can navigate through this challenging period with greater confidence and peace of mind.


U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Food and Drug Administration