You Can Officially Order Free At-Home COVID Tests from the U.S. Government
If you got a seemingly sketchy text from a friend or family member yesterday about ordering free COVID tests, there's good news: It's legit.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced that Americans would be able to order free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests, and the website (covidtests.gov) is officially live and taking orders. Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests. (They had announced that ordering would begin January 19, but the website went live a day earlier than the launch — hence those 2000s-era chain messages you were receiving via text.)
But the old-school word-of-mouth method worked: There were more than 1 million visitors on the website at one point Tuesday evening, according to The New York Times.
So How Do You Get Your Free COVID Tests?
Simply hop onto the website covidtests.gov and click "Order Free At-Home Tests." This will take you to a USPS webpage where you'll input info like your name, mailing address, and email address (so you can get updates on your order).
And, yes, the tests are completely free.
Orders should ship in 7-12 days, according to covidtests.gov. That said, the Administration will be prioritizing orders to "households experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly during this Omicron surge," according to a release from the White House.
If, for whatever reason, you can't access the internet to order the tests or have trouble placing your order, the administration says they're launching a free call line, so that Americans who have difficulty accessing the internet or need additional support can phone-in orders for their tests, according to the White House. However, the call line number doesn't appear to be public yet. (Some Twitter users, for example, have cited issues placing an order if they live in an apartment building with multiple units.)
If You Need More COVID Tests (or Need One RN)...
While free at-home COVID tests are indisputably good news, there are limitations. If your household has more than one or two people, four tests won't go very far (especially if you're serial or repeat testing — which the FDA recommends for asymptomatic individuals). And, of course, there's a delay in shipping, so if you currently have symptoms and need a COVID test now, it doesn't make sense to wait until they arrive. (See: What to Do If You Think You Have COVID-19)
Luckily, it should start to be easier (and cheaper) to get a COVID test. The Biden-Harris Administration also announced they're requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month, so if you have private health coverage can get them for free, even after you've ordered your free tests from the government website. (See: FDA-Authorized At-Home COVID-19 Tests That'll Save You from Waiting In Line)
The covidtests.gov website provides info on how to submit for insurance reimbursement for COVID tests that you buy yourself; insurance is required to reimburse eight tests per month, per person on your health plan. (Just keep an eye out for these signs that it's a fake COVID test kit.)
On covidtests.gov, you can also find no-cost antigen and PCR COVID-19 tests near you, using a database of the 20,000 free testing sites nationwide.
If you receive a positive test result on your at-home rapid test, that means the virus has been detected and you should follow the CDC's recommendations for dealing with a positive test result.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.