How to order free COVID tests from the government

key takeaways

  • Families can now order free home COVID tests online.
  • In addition to using home testing, there are other options for taking the test.
  • Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to prevent serious illness and hospitalization.

Americans can now order free home COVID tests from a government website called COVIDTests.gov. While the Biden administration initially said the site would launch on Jan. 19, the site went live a day earlier.

Free testing is part of President Biden’s ongoing response to Omicron variants. In December, Biden promised to mail 500 million free home rapid tests to Americans.But on January 13, he announced that the government would buy $500 million more tests, a total of one billion tests were performed.

Dr. Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Safety, said the tests are another option for families, in addition to other COVID safety initiatives, such as free tests distributed at schools and community health centers.

“I want people to remember a billion tests, adding manufacturers, more testing sites, and providing tests for schools – all of which may not be perfect, but there should be more free tests in the coming weeks,” Gronvall said. Tell very well.

Here’s everything we know about the test and rollout so far.

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How do I get a test?

Americans can order free home COVID-19 tests online at COVIDTests.gov. To preserve stock, people will initially be limited to ordering up to four tests per household. But in his State of the Union address on March 1, Biden announced that Americans could order additional testing. So far, supply is higher than demand in the United States.

The government has also introduced a phone number — 1-800-232-0233 — so those without access to a computer or the internet can still place orders.

People ordering the test must enter their name and mailing address on the website, with the option to share an email address for order updates. Credit card information is not required.

Dr. Jeromie Ballreich, a health economist and assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he expected high demand for these tests and warned of a possible crash after the site launched.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s going to be much prioritization for government websites – there may be prioritization, but one of the issues we don’t have is a top-down approach to identifying high-risk groups or directing resources to those high-risk groups,” Ballreich told VigorTip.

Who can be tested for COVID-19 at home?

As the White House says, COVID-19 home testing is free for every family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get home testing before developing symptoms of COVID, having been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or gathering indoors, regardless of symptoms or potential exposure.

Considerations before taking a COVID test at home

What will the launch look like? When can I expect my test?

All at-home COVID-19 tests will be mailed directly to U.S. households at the address entered on the ordering website. Tests typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering online or by phone.

The government is working with the U.S. Postal Service to pack and ship tests for Americans who place orders. All shipments in the continental U.S. will be sent via First Class Package Service, while shipments to Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories will be sent via Priority Mail.

But health policy experts say that despite this scheduled timetable, there could be potential delays.

“[The administration is] Working with the U.S. Postal Service to make sure the tests will arrive, but I don’t know if they’ll arrive on time,” Gronvall said. “We’ve seen the test crunch ease a bit as more becomes available — but availability will Varies by state. “

Nationwide staffing shortages, new variants like the Omicron, and rising COVID case counts will affect when Americans will have at-home tests delivered to their doorsteps.

“I do expect this rollout to use the U.S. Postal Service to be a bit slow; I wouldn’t be surprised to see some delays,” said Dr. Jeromie Ballreich, a health economist and assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Tell VigorTip.

Is it accurate to take a COVID test at home?

What if I’m homeless or don’t have a mailing address?

The Biden administration is still unclear on how people can get tested for COVID-19 at home if they are homeless or homeless.

However, Gronvall said people without a mailing address should work with their local health department and community center, where free testing is most likely to be available.

“It’s important to work with local public health departments and work with underserved people. People who don’t have a home may find ways to get tested in libraries or even schools,” Gronvall said. “For example, in Baltimore, the health department has partnered with libraries to offer free testing — they’re able to offer a test for a few hours.”

Ballreich noted that while rapid home tests may not be available immediately for the homeless, they may become available in the coming weeks.

“Similar to access to vaccines, I hope similar channels — community health partners and organizations — will help them access vaccines,” Ballreich said. “But I expect that to be done in a month or two.”

What are community health centers and why are they getting more COVID vaccines?

What kind of tests can I expect?

All at-home COVID-19 tests distributed by the government will be rapid antigen tests that have received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The government has not currently outlined a specific brand of home testing.

According to Gronvall, the rapid test looks for the antigen or protein of COVID-19. The tests returned results very quickly—many within 15 minutes, others within an hour.

“PCR tests are very sensitive, meaning they can detect small amounts of viral genetic material early in infection, but rapid antigen tests are already being used as a better proxy for infectivity,” Gronvall said. “PCR and rapid antigen tests are closely related, so people should feel confident about using rapid antigen tests.”

PCR test

  • Polymer chain reaction (PCR) test considered the gold standard for COVID testing in the U.S.

  • Usually done in a laboratory or healthcare setting, but home collection kits are available, which can then be transported to the laboratory.

  • Examining microscopic fragments of the virus’ genetic material ensures near-perfect accuracy.

  • Laboratory analysis can take hours or days.

Rapid Antigen Test

  • Rapid antigen testing allows for faster testing.

  • Most COVID test kits that allow you to collect a sample and see the results at home use a rapid test.

  • Examine the viral protein fragments in the virus, not its genetic material. This makes them slightly less accurate, especially if you don’t have symptoms.

  • Results can be given within 10 minutes to an hour.

Should I use PCR or rapid testing for COVID-19?

But Gronvall warns that when the test takes place, it’s only a snapshot in time. People must be aware within the first hours or days of exposure that there may not be enough virus in the body to trigger a positive result from a rapid or PCR test.

“With a COVID test, if you get a negative result, it just says that moment, not necessarily what’s going to happen the next day,” Gronvall said.

Is the test really free? Who will pay?

All home COVID tests ordered through COVIDTests.gov are free and funded through the American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.

According to a summary of the bill, it “provides $48.3 billion for testing to contain the virus and mitigate its impact, hire personnel for contact tracing, provide [personal protective equipment] for frontline health workers and other measures to fight the virus. ”

“ARPA provided substantial funding for schools to update ventilation systems and upgrade testing programs as part of the same funding,” Gronvall said.

White House officials said they are currently completing a contract process to purchase 1 billion home rapid test kits.

“The government is rapidly completing an unprecedented contract process to purchase 500 million home rapid tests, of which more than 420 million tests have already been contracted,” a senior administration official said in a Jan. 14 news conference.

“Given the incredible number of tests procured and the diversity of manufacturers, more contracts will continue to be awarded in the coming weeks,” the White House said.

Should you report your COVID-19 home test results to your local health department?

How else can I get tested for COVID-19?

If you cannot get tested for COVID-19 at home, there are other ways to get tested, including with your healthcare provider, local health department, or a community testing site in your state.

If you have health insurance, your plan should now also reimburse most of the cost of at-home testing.

Everything you need to know about free at-home COVID test kits

“Testing is great, but by itself it’s not the only way to end the pandemic,” Gronvall said. “Ultimately, a vaccine is on the horizon, and we need to vaccinate the world and the nearly 40 percent of Americans who are not yet vaccinated.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.