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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Time is running out to claim your free rapid COVID tests from the federal government. 

Friday, September 2, is the final day to claim four free at-home rapid COVID tests. The federal government made eight free tests available to each U.S. household; the tests were mailed out in two allotments of four tests each. Households that haven’t yet received all eight tests are still eligible to request free tests. 

The free test program is ending because Congress “hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests,” according to the federal COVID website

The program’s dissolution coincides with the apparent downswing of a nationwide surge in COVID cases fueled by the BA.5 variant.

The federal government in January began taking online requests from U.S. residents asking to receive four free at-home COVID tests per household. President Joe Biden pledged to mail out 500 million free tests after his administration was criticized for not adequately preparing for the first Omicron surge at the beginning of the year.

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

How can I obtain an at-home COVID test? 

The easiest way to get an at-home test is to order one online through the federal government. Go to covidtests.gov and 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. 

Why is the federal government dropping the free test program?

On top of Congress not funding more tests, CNN reports that the White House is preserving the current supply in anticipation of a fall surge of new cases.

How many tests can I order?

The federal government will mail you four free at-home tests if you request them, unless you’ve already received the maximum number of tests each household is allotted. The limit is eight tests per household, or two rounds of four tests. 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, Spanish, and Chinese

Do I have to order the free tests online?

Those without internet access can order their free tests by calling 1-800-232-0233. Deaf and hard of hearing can call TTY 1-888-720-7489.

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

The federal government says the tests should arrive in the mail seven 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 at-home tests?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking a rapid COVID test if you have COVID symptoms, if you’ve been exposed to COVID, and before you attend an indoor event. 

When 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 with 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 you don’t have symptoms, 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? 

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, was recently sued by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison for allegedly faking test 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...