Another Covid-19 variant is spreading, but there’s an updated vaccine and four more free tests are available for every household in the US—including US territories and military addresses—starting September 25. While you don’t need to panic, it’s good to have tests on hand so you can find out if you have Covid. That way, you can prevent the spread of the virus to others.
If you need a test right now, we have a guide to finding the best at-home tests and have outlined the process of ordering and taking tests below. Also, see our guides to the best N95 masks and other reusable masks we like. You can follow our Covid-19 coverage here.
Updated September 2023: We added information on how to get free tests and how to check if your old tests have expired.
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Here’s How to Order Your Tests
Head directly to the US Postal Service’s Covid-19 page. If you go through Covid.gov, on the front page you should see “Order Free At-Home Tests” in a blue bubble. Clicking that redirects you to the right USPS page. There, you’ll fill out your name and address. Include your email address so you can get shipping notifications. Once you’ve filled in your address, click the green Check Out Now button to the right. It’s completely free, including shipping. Only one person per household should place a request.
If there is someone in your life who doesn’t have access to the internet, the easiest thing to do is to fill out this form for them. They can try to call the Covid.gov helpline at 1-877-696-6775, though they will likely be on hold for a while. Don’t call USPS, as no one you speak to will be able to place orders on your behalf.
The first round of tests took several weeks to arrive, but the second and third rounds arrived within a few days. There’s no guarantee as to what brand you’ll be getting, and you can’t choose, but the site says these are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–authorized at-home rapid antigen tests. You’ll likely receive the iHealth tests we recommend.
You should take a test as soon as you start to notice symptoms or within five days of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If you’re asymptomatic and your first test is negative, take another test based on the manufacturer’s instructions. This is usually within two to three days of the first test—most tests come with two tests per box for this reason. If your test is positive, take another test to verify it and quarantine for five days.
Are Your Old Tests Expired?
You might already have a few tests on hand from past government shipments or that you’ve bought separately. They’re likely fine to use. Check the FDA’s list of authorized at-home tests. If the expiration date was extended, that means the manufacturer provided data to the FDA showing that the shelf-life is longer than it thought when it was first authorized.
Do You Need a Test Right Now?
If you need a test ASAP, please check our guide on Rapid At-Home Covid-19 Tests and Where to Find Them. It also has more information about accuracy. Rapid tests usually show results in about 15 minutes, and they’re about 85 percent accurate.
The Tests We Recommend (see our guide for more retailers).