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A stack of BinaxNow COVID-19 at-home test kits. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

You Can Now Order More Free COVID At-Home Tests via USPS

You Can Now Order More Free COVID At-Home Tests via USPS

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Update Friday, Sept. 22: Starting Monday, Sept. 25, you’ll be able to order another four free COVID tests from the federal government through USPS.

Back on June 1, the federal government closed the program that allowed you to order these free COVID tests in the mail. But in a statement on Sept. 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) said that the covidtests.gov program is restarting on Sept. 25.

These tests, said HSS, “will detect the currently circulating COVID-19 variants, are intended for use through the end of 2023, and will include clear instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates.” Each household is eligible to receive four tests.

Read more about how to order this latest round of free COVID tests, and other ways to find a free COVID test near you while you wait.

Original story: Starting Thursday, Dec. 15, you can once again order more free at-home COVID-19 tests online from the federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.

Since January, this White House program has offered free at-home COVID tests to every household in the United States, to be shipped by USPS. The tests and shipping are completely free of charge, and NPR reports that this latest round of four free tests will start to ship the week of Dec. 19.

The program ended back in September, but has now been revived amid rising COVID infection rates ahead of the holidays. The White House originally cited a lack of funding from Congress as the reason for ending the program. But the administration has now apparently reallocated funds from other virus programs to purchase more tests while the Biden administration pursues congressional buy-in for additional COVID emergency funding, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Keep reading for what you need to know about these at-home tests.

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How many free COVID tests can my family and I get through USPS?

For this new version of the free COVID test program, you can place an online order for four free COVID tests for your household today.

(You might remember that when the program was running earlier this year, you were able to order multiple rounds of tests, and receive four tests per household each time. That’s no longer the case, and the White House is offering you just one order of four tests this time.)

You can place your order for these four free COVID tests online at USPS.com. According to NPR, this latest round of free tests will start to ship the week of Dec. 19, meaning that if you order your tests as soon as possible, you could have them in good time for use during the holidays.

This program is separate from the one that allows folks with private health insurance to get reimbursed for the cost of at-home COVID tests. Read more about getting reimbursed by your health insurer for at-home tests.

No payment or credit card details are required to place an order. You also don’t need to provide any ID or health insurance information. You can, however, supply an email address if you’d like to receive shipping notifications from the Postal Service via email.

You also will not be asked for proof of citizenship or about your immigration status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says that accessing free COVID testing (or getting a COVID vaccine) does not make you a public charge and won’t affect any current or future green card applications.

If you or someone in your community doesn’t have access to the internet to order online, the Postal Service says you can contact the CovidTests.gov test kit order-fulfillment help line by calling (800) 232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489). Please note that an earlier version of this number given on the Postal Service’s FAQ page appears to have been the wrong one. You also should be prepared for potentially long wait times at this help line.

The Postal Service also offers a Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) specifically to assist disabled people in placing their orders. You can call (888) 677-1199, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, or email dial@usaginganddisability.org.

Something very important to note: Every residential address (and residential P.O. box) in the United States is eligible to receive one order of four at-home COVID tests — not every person or every family. This means multiple orders to the same address under different names won’t be processed.

For example, if you live with several roommates, or in a large multigenerational household, only one person can place an order for that address. Realistically, this might mean that the tests you receive are not enough to cover everyone in your household.

On its website, the Postal Service states that it will “limit [the number of orders to three] per residential address.” Each order includes four tests.

Tests are also available for residential addresses in U.S. territories and overseas military and diplomatic addresses (APO/FPO/DPO).

Can I pick up my tests instead of getting them delivered?

The federal government’s FAQ for the free at-home COVID tests available via the Postal Service states that you cannot pick up your tests somewhere else.

However, your county may be operating its own free at-home COVID test delivery/pickup program, or considering starting one. Check your county’s public health website.

When will my free COVID at-home tests arrive?

According to NPR, this latest round of free tests will start to ship the week of Dec. 19. Previously, the White House’s free COVID test home page said that your order would “usually ship in 7-12 days,” but this information is no longer present on the site.

A uniformed postal service worker stands inside her mail van, with USPS logo visible on side of van
A White House program offers free at-home COVID tests to every household in the United States, to be shipped by the Postal Service. Tests and shipping are free of charge. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

What kind of tests are these at-home COVID tests?

These at-home COVID tests are antigen tests that you can use whenever and wherever you prefer, without requiring the assistance of a clinic. Your test results are usually available within 30 minutes, and these types of tests are good for telling you whether you’re actively infectious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you use an at-home test if:

  • You begin to have COVID symptoms.
  • It’s been at least five days since you came in close contact with someone who has COVID.
  • You’re gathering indoors with a group of people who are at risk of severe disease, or who are unvaccinated.

Read more about the difference between at-home antigen tests and PCR tests.

So I can order these free COVID tests for my household even if I don’t currently need to get tested?

That’s right.

The White House has explicitly said that the goal of these at-home test deliveries is “to help ensure Americans have tests on hand if a need arises.” Go ahead and order yours.

I’m having problems ordering my home COVID tests. What’s up?

The Postal Service says it will send three sets of free tests to “valid residential addresses” (and residential P.O. boxes). But this obviously creates problems for people who live in spaces that don’t fit the Postal Service’s definition of a valid residential address, from folks with less common mailing addresses (like half street numbers) to our unhoused neighbors.

The federal government’s FAQ states that, currently, you cannot pick up your tests somewhere or have them held at your local post office instead of getting them shipped to your home. (Residential P.O. boxes are acceptable, however.)

The Postal Service’s FAQ on ordering free at-home COVID tests note that “some residents of multi-unit buildings may have difficulty placing orders” because the Postal Service’s system “does not recognize the address being entered as a single residence within a multi-unit building.” If that’s you, the Postal Service advises you to file a service request with them.

When the program launched, there were isolated reports of issues relating to the website’s address-verification tool erroneously enforcing the four-per-household cap on apartment buildings and other multiunit dwellings, but it was not immediately clear how widespread the issue was.

If you’re experiencing issues with ordering your at-home COVID tests, try refreshing the page and then attempting to order again — especially if your residential address includes an apartment number. You might also consider that someone in your household has already ordered all the orders set aside for your residential address.

If the system isn’t recognizing your address as valid, the Postal Service recommends that you confirm the proper formatting of your address by using the USPS.com Look Up a ZIP Code tool. “Once you validate your address, you may attempt ordering your tests again,” says the Postal Service.

When the program launched, there were initially complaints that people with a home address that was actually a commercial address, or connected to a commercial building, could not place an order for their tests. USPS’s FAQs now say that “Ordering eligibility has been expanded to include Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies.”

If you’re still having problems, the Postal Service says you can file a service request.

If your problem is something else, try consulting these links to see whether your problem or error message is listed:

The Postal Service says that people with questions about eligibility, the online ordering form, shipping or delivery can contact the Postal Service Help Desk at (800) ASK-USPS, or (800) 275-8777.

Remember, if you or someone in your community doesn’t have access to the internet to order online, the Postal Service says you can contact the covidtests.gov test kit order fulfillment help line by calling (800) 232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489). Please note that an earlier version of this number given on the Postal Service’s FAQ page appears to have been the wrong one. You should also be prepared for potentially long wait times using this help line.

We’ll be monitoring for updates on these issues, and looking for answers for folks who have been experiencing problems ordering their free at-home COVID tests. In the meantime, get our advice on finding a free or low-cost COVID test near you.

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How do I know which COVID at-home test order site is legit?

The Federal Trade Commission has already warned that scammers are popping up online to sell fake COVID tests, so it’s especially important to know which websites are the right ones to request free at-home tests.

There are only two authorized websites for requesting tests:

Remember: These tests are free, so you will never be prompted to share your financial information, health insurance details, Social Security number or immigration status.

You are required to share only your full name and address to order your free COVID tests. So remember: If a site is asking you to give more information than that, it’s very likely that you are on the wrong website.

An open COVID test card. The card is white and indicates through black-and-white graphic illustrations how the swab should be used to collect the sample. A pair of blue-gloved hands inserts the swab into the card.
A rapid antigen test at the Canal Alliance COVID-19 testing site in San Rafael, on Sept. 25, 2021. (Penni Gladstone/CalMatters)

Is this different from getting my insurer to reimburse me for tests?

Yes. As of January 15, people with private health insurance can get reimbursed by their insurer for the cost of up to eight at-home COVID tests per month.

This program applies only to at-home tests purchased on or after January 15, and covers eight free tests per covered individual per month. “That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month,” confirmed the White House.

If you have private health insurance, how you get your reimbursement and your tests, and whether you get reimbursed after purchase or have costs covered up front, totally depends on which insurer you have. Each insurance company is doing this differently, so make sure you know what’s available for you according to your plan before you buy a test.

People covered by Medicare are not eligible to get reimbursed for at-home COVID-19 tests. However, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans are required to cover the costs of at-home tests.

Read our full guide to getting reimbursed by your health care provider for the cost of at-home COVID tests.

This story includes reporting from The Associated Press and NPR. An earlier version of this story originally published on August 31.

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