Any household in the U.S. can claim up to eight free at-home COVID tests through September 2, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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A month into the Omicron wave, COVID infections are near an all-time high, both in Minnesota and across the nation, and demand for tests has been high for some time.

But this week, the federal government started taking online requests from anyone in the U.S. to mail out four free at-home COVID tests per household. The action follows a recent pledge from President Joe Biden to mail out 500 million free tests, after criticism that his administration didn’t adequately prepare for the current Omicron surge.

Below, Sahan Journal briefly breaks down how to obtain these free tests and the recommended guidelines for using them. 

How can I obtain an at-home COVID test? 

Right now, the easiest way to get a hold of an at-home test is to order one online through the federal government. It’s literally as simple as a click of a button. Go to covidtests.gov, and on the home page, you’ll click the “order free at-home tests” link on the front page. The link takes you to a special page from the U.S. Post Office. 

Fill out your name and address and click “check-out now.” That’s it. 

How many tests can I order?

The federal government will mail you four free at-home tests if you request them. The limit is four tests per household. Each household has to reside in the United States 

Is the website to order free COVID tests available in languages other than English?

Currently, the website is available only in English and Spanish

Do I have to order the free tests online?

Those without internet access can order their four free tests by calling 1-800-232-0233.

When will I receive my at-home tests in the mail? 

The federal government says the tests will be shipped out in late January and arrive to each household within 7 to 12 days from the order date. 

If you are seeking additional at-home tests from a drugstore or health provider and you are enrolled in health insurance, no matter the plan, your insurer should cover any costs of COVID tests. (This according to an order by the Biden administration earlier this month.) Under the order, health insurance plans are required to pay for up to eight at-home tests per person each month. 

When should I use these at-home tests?

The state of Minnesota recommends using at-home tests before attending social events outside the household (such as family gatherings), especially if unvaccinated people or children will be present. The idea here is to discover infections (which may not have caused any symptoms) before you mix with other people.

Will these at-tests be accepted in Twin Cities restaurants, bars, and venues that require proof of vaccination or negative test results?

No. Under the city orders announced January 12, customers can enter venues only with proof of full vaccination or a negative test conducted by a lab within the last 72 hours. 

Anybody with proof of full COVID vaccination—meaning one shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines—can eat and drink in restaurants, bars, and venues in both cities without taking a COVID test. All children under 5 are exempt from mandatory testing or vaccination in both cities. 

When, in general, should I take a COVID-19 test—either at home or at a testing site? 

Per public health guidelines, anyone with COVID symptoms, which include sore throat, coughing, fever, and body aches, should get tested. Similarly, anyone who has had known exposure to someone who tested positive should get tested either as soon as symptoms develop or, if no symptoms develop, no less than five days from when they were exposed to the virus.

What should I do if I test positive on an at-home test? 

Isolate from other people living inside your home and quarantine yourself from going out in the public. If you have symptoms, quarantine and isolate until the symptoms go away. If not, quarantine and isolate for five days, then wear a mask in public for at least the next five days.

The Minnesota Department of Health states that people who test positive with an at-home test do not need to report the results to local public health agencies. The state does recommend that people who test positive report to everyone they’ve been in contact with, including their workplace. 

Where else can I obtain free or cheap COVID tests? 

Separate from at-home COVID testing, Walgreens is currently providing free COVID drive-through lab tests at select locations. CVS is also offering free lab tests at some stores to people ages 3 and older.

This website from the federal Health Resources and Security Administration allows people to search for health clinics near their homes that offer lab testing. In all cases, people seeking on-site testing should call the store or provider in question to schedule an appointment.

The Minnesota Department of Health provides a list here of community sites offering free rapid tests. 

Should I avoid any companies providing free lab testing for COVID? 

Be careful with some companies providing free testing on the spot. One private company, Center for COVID Control, recently attracted a lawsuit from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison over the alleged faking of testing results. Ellison’s office is also suing Doctors Clinical Laboratory over similar allegations. Both companies have since paused operations and haven’t commented publicly on the lawsuits

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...