This year’s must-have holiday gift might just be an at-home Covid test kit.
With omicron cases surging and Americans travelling to visit their families, demand for rapid antigen tests has led to long lineups at testing facilities, empty shelves at stores and lengthy delivery times for online orders.
More tests could become available after the holidays: On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced a new initiative to mail 500 million at-home kits to people who need them, made available through a website launching in January.
As of yet, health officials have not offered more details about this site, including whether there will be a limit per order, or how soon the kits can be expected once ordered.
Biden also announced that starting next month, private insurance will “cover at-home testing so you can order a test online and get reimbursed,” and that free at-home tests will be available to those without insurance. More details about this initiative have yet to be provided, either.
But in the meantime, finding a Covid test right now can be tricky. If you try each of these five options, you might get lucky:
5 potential ways to get a Covid test right now
Health centers: Start with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) directory of health centers, which lists clinics that offer Covid screenings.
These centers offer PCR tests — which are highly accurate, though results can take days to process — and antigen-based rapid tests, which are slightly less reliable but come with same-day turnaround times. Many clinics are fully scheduled or bombarded by long lines right now, but it never hurts to check.
Some allow walk-ins, while others require you to schedule an appointment. Call ahead to ask whether the test is discounted or free: Some federally-qualified health centers qualify for specific reimbursements under Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of your test.
Private clinics not listed by the HHS also offer testing — just Google “Covid test near me” to see what’s nearby.
Local libraries and community centers: Many municipalities and counties offer free Covid testing at library buildings, fire departments, malls and community centers.
Due to high demand, some sites might not be taking walk-up appointments — so check your town, city and county websites for locations and availability.
Retailers: CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart and plenty of local independent pharmacies offer PCR and rapid tests, which are free on a walk-in basis for anyone who qualifies under CDC guidelines. Fair warning: Their lines may also be pretty long these days.
Most pharmacies also offer take-home kits that you can buy over the counter or online, but they aren’t free and they’re unlikely to be covered by your insurance. On Tuesday, Walgreens and CVS started limiting how many tests you can purchase at a time — citing an “unprecedented increase in demand” and warning that at-home tests could be sold out online, respectively.
Other online retailers also offer at-home testing kits, like health testing start-up Everlywell and e-commerce giant Amazon. Make sure your test has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before purchasing it.
When they’re in stock, at-home tests can cost as little as $14 or above $100, often depending on location and availability.
Somewhat predictably, supplies are currently limited — so it’s possible you may get a “no test available” message based on your ZIP code. If so, check the webpages for nearby cities or towns to see if they offer free tests, too.
Your employer: Some companies offer free tests for their employees, often so they can go into the office safely. Ask your HR department if your company can buy take-home tests and ship to your door, or reimburse you for at-home kits you’ve purchased yourself.