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The government has reinstated its program to offer free COVID-19 tests to Americans.
Each household can receive a set of free at-home COVID-19 tests.
Doctors recommend ordering your tests now—here’s how.
COVID-19 cases have started to climb across the country as we head into cold and flu season. With that, it’s a good idea to stock up on essentials related to the virus, including COVID-19 tests, if you are experiencing current COVID-19 symptoms.
Last year, the U.S. government provided free COVID tests to Americans—and the Biden Administration has brought the program back this year. Meaning, you can get free COVID tests delivered straight to your home to have at your place for the just in case.
The tests are part of a $600 million investment in 12 COVID-19 test manufacturers, the government announced last week. “These critical investments in U.S. manufacturing will improve preparedness for COVID-19 and other pandemic threats of the future, strengthen the nation’s capacity to manufacture tests, and secure approximately 200 million new over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for future federal government use,” a news release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reads.
But how do you get free COVID tests and where are they coming from? Here’s everything you need to know about getting your COVID tests by mail this year.
How to order free COVID tests online
The process of ordering free COVID tests online is simple. Just go to COVIDtests.gov and click the button that says, “order free at-home tests." That takes you to the USPS’s website, where you’ll be asked to fill in your first and last name, email, and address, and you can receive up to four free tests per household.
Orders will ship free starting the week of October 2, according to the website. Just a heads up: You may receive a test with “expired” dates on the box—the website notes that the Food and Drug Administration has extended those dates, so the tests will be good until the dates listed online here.
What tests will the government send?
You don’t get to choose which tests you’ll get, but the government shared a breakdown of which companies are getting funding and providing the free tests. Those included iHealth, CorDx, Access Bio, and Azure Biotech.
Last year, the government provided more than 755 million free tests to Americans. The free test program was paused in the spring, but just started up again.
Where are the new tests are coming from?
The tests themselves are coming from a slew of locations. The Department of Health and Human Services lists off companies in New Jersey, California, Texas, Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware as being providers of the tests.
The goal, it seems, is to ensure plenty of tests coming from within the U.S. to reduce potential supply chain issues.
“Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans,” Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the HHS, said in a statement. O’Connell noted that these investment “will increase availability of tests in the future.”
The HHS didn’t explicitly say anything about the timing, but it seems to be linked to an expected rise in COVID cases this winter, says Thomas Russo, M.D., a professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. “They’re doing it now in anticipation of the impeding respiratory virus season,” he says.
Dr. Russo says that it’s “extraordinarily important” for all Americans to have access to tests, given that they can be expensive to buy on your own. “We don’t want to have the inability to pay as a barrier to procure tests,” he says. “Giving people the opportunity to have free tests will encourage them to test themselves at home.”
William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says it’s a “very good thing” that these tests will be available free to Americans. “The immediate clinical value is that it can help distinguish influenza from COVID,” he says. “Particularly for high-risk people, we have therapies that differ for influenza and COVID that can help prevent progression into more serious disease.”
The tests are designed to be used through the end of 2023, the HHS says—that’s helpful for people who may have older tests left over from last year or longer that may have expired, Dr. Russo says.
Doctors recommend doing what you can now to prepare for an anticipated increase in COVID-19 cases, including getting the new updated COVID-19 vaccine and wearing a mask if you’re high risk for complications of the disease and cases are high in your area.
It’s also a good idea to order your free tests, Dr. Schaffner says. “Have some of these tests in the house so you can test yourself or a member of your family if someone becomes ill,” he says. “We have therapies for people who are high risk—but you need to know if you have the virus first.”
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