Starting today, Monday, Sept. 25, the Biden administration is relaunching the COVID.gov website where American households can order up to four COVID-19 rapid tests for free. Many pandemic programs dwindled down this year with the WHO’s declaration of the end of the global Public Health Emergency in May. However as we enter the fall and winter seasons, the Biden administration is once again activating this free test service so that Americans have tests on-hand.
Additionally, the administration has invested $600M to be distributed across 12 domestic COVID-19 test manufacturers. The investment will secure another 200 million over-the-counter tests for future federal use.
How to get a free COVID-19 test
You can order your free COVID-19 tests at COVIDTests.gov. Every U.S. household is eligible to order four free COVID-19 tests delivered by mail to their home. There is a limit of four tests per residential address, and orders will ship starting the week of October 2, 2023. If you need help placing your order, you can call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).
In San Francisco, you can also visit SF.gov for information about free and low-cost COVID-19 testing sites.
What type of test is it?
The tests available for order are rapid antigen at-home tests (not PCR). There’s no need to drop the tests off at a pharmacy or retailer; you’ll administer the test yourself and get results within 30 minutes.
When should I take the test?
COVID.gov recommends taking the test under the following conditions:
- If you begin showing symptoms such as a fever, sore throat, runny nose, loss of taste, or loss of smell
- At least 5 days after coming into contact with someone who has COVID-19
- When you’re planning to attend a group gathering, especially if anyone attending is at high risk for COVID-19
What should I do with my old “expired” COVID-19 tests?
Don’t throw out your old tests! The FDA is extending expiration dates on previously-released COVID-19 tests and you may still be able to use them. Visit FDA.gov to check if your test’s expiration has been extended.
What should I do if my test comes back negative?
If you test negative, then the test did not find the virus and you’re therefore less likely to spread it. Check your test’s instructions for specific steps for what to do.
According to COVID.gov, you should take another test 48 hours after your first, and then a third test 48 hours after that to rule out the possibility of infection.
…and if it comes back positive?
If your at-home test comes back positive you should follow the CDC’s latest guidance for isolation and precautions. As of now (Sept. 25, 2023), that entails wearing a mask and self-isolating for at least 5 days.
Treatment options are now widely available, and it’s worth talking to a doctor if you’re over 50 or have a weakened immune system. You can also look into the Test-to-Treat program which has tests and treatment available on-site for eligible patients.