COVID-19: Government to suspend free test kits by mail

Federal government is suspending a program to provide free at-home COVID-19 tests by mail.

Federal government is suspending a program to provide free at-home COVID-19 tests by mail.

UPDATE: A program that provides free COVID-19 tests delivered by mail will be suspended on Friday, March 8, according to the United States Postal Service website.

The notice said orders placed on or before March 8 will be delivered. The federal government restarted the program last fall, allowing each household to order up to four free test kits.

Here is the original story from September 2023:

The federal government is restarting a website allowing Americans to again order up to four free tests per household — aiming to prevent possible shortages during a rise in coronavirus cases that has typically come during colder months.

The Department of Health and Human Services says orders can be placed at starting Sept. 25, and that no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service.

The website also includes a link for consumers to check their existing stock of tests. Some test kits have been granted extended expiration dates.

Dawn O’Connell of HHS said the website will remain functional to receive orders through the holidays and “we reserve the right to keep it open even longer if we’re starting to see an increase in cases.”

“If there is a demand for these tests, we want to make sure that they're made available to the American people for free in this way,” O'Connell said. “But, at this point, our focus is getting through the holidays and making sure folks can take a test if they're going to see Grandma for Thanksgiving."

The tests are designed to detect COVID variants currently circulating, and are intended for use by the end of the year. But they will include instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates, the department said.

RELATED: If you have older test kits, check here to see if the expiration has been extended

A refresher: How COVID-19 tests work

When should you test? If you have symptoms, test immediately. If you do not have symptoms but have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before taking a test.

As explained by the Food and Drug Administration, there are two types of tests:

  • PCR tests are the “gold standard” test done by a laboratory and are more likely to detect the virus than antigen or rapid tests. PCR test samples are usually be taken by a health care provider and sent to a lab. Results may take up to 3 days.
  • Antigen tests are rapid tests that can be done at home and produce results in 15-30 minutes.
  • Positive antigen results are very accurate and reliable. However antigen tests are less likely to detect the virus than PCR tests — especially early in an infection or in people who do not have symptoms. For that reason, the FDA recommends people who get negative results with an at-home test use multiple tests over a certain time period, such as 2-3 days.
  • If your at-home antigen tests gives a positive result, it means you most likely have the virus and should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance to stay home, isolate from others, and seek follow-up care with a health care provider.
  • If your test gives a negative result, test again 48 hours after the first negative test, for a total of at least two tests. If you get a negative result on the second test and you are still concerned that you could have COVID, take a third test 48 hours later or consider getting a PCR lab test from a health provider.

How to find a COVID-19 test near you:

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, COVID tests are widely available at local health departments and kiosks statewide. Look up the nearest location here.