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Today Is Your Last Chance to Order Free COVID Tests via USPS

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A hand holds two bright orange boxes that read "COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test" on them.
Where can you find a free COVID test in the Bay Area? (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Today — Friday, March 8 — is your last chance to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government through the United States Postal Service (USPS).

A message on the covidtests.gov site states, “Ordering four free COVID-19 tests via this website will be suspended after Friday, March 8, 2024,” and that “All orders placed on or before March 8 will be delivered.”

To be extra safe you don’t miss this deadline, place an order for your free COVID-19 tests (if you’re eligible) before midnight Eastern time on Friday, which is 9 p.m. Pacific time.

The White House’s free COVID-19 test program, which first launched in 2022, was originally shuttered back in the summer of 2023, only to be reopened in September amid a national rise in coronavirus rates and hospitalizations in part fueled by the emergence of the EG.5 “Eris” variant.

The Hill reports that the free COVID-19 test program “may be brought back again in the future as needed.”

The announcement of the free COVID-19 test program’s suspension comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines on isolating with COVID-19 that de-emphasize testing in favor of people monitoring their symptoms to judge when they should leave isolation.

Previously, the CDC advised that people who have tested positive should stay home for at least five days, regardless of symptoms — but now the agency recommends that COVID-positive people can return to work or regular activities once “symptoms are improving overall,” and they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medication.

After a rise in COVID-19 numbers earlier this winter — fueled in part by the new JN.1 varianthospitalizations of people with COVID-19 fell nationally by over 10% in the last week. Deaths due to COVID-19 across the United States also fell by 8.7% in the same period. Last week, the CDC also approved an extra dose of the updated vaccine for older adults aged 65 and older.

Still, as we approach year five of the pandemic, COVID-19 remains with us. And this announcement about the closing of the federal government’s free COVID-19 test program aside, if you’ve been finding it increasingly hard to find a low-cost COVID-19 test more generally, you’re not alone. Use the links below to find a free or low-cost COVID-19 test near you, or keep reading to find out more about these USPS test kits.

Jump straight to how to:

You can also jump straight to the latest information about current COVID-19 incubation times and the best time to take a COVID-19 test.

A person with long hair inserts a long cottonswab in her nostril while standing in the doorway of her home.
Janet Franco-Orona swabs her nose for a COVID-19 test at her home in San José on Feb. 3, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

How the end of the public health emergency affected free COVID testing

California’s pandemic state of emergency ended over a year ago on Feb. 28, 2023, ahead of the end of the U.S.’s wider emergency status on May 11, 2023. These states of emergency gave government officials more flexibility to act faster and bypass certain bureaucratic barriers to respond to the health crisis that’s now well into its third year.

Ending those executive orders meant a large portion of funding for free COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics then ended — and costs for individuals have now crept up accordingly. For example, after May 11, 2023, the federal government stopped requiring insurance companies in the United States to reimburse families for eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month.

Californians have a little more wiggle room on that front. Thanks to a state bill passed in October 2021, Californians can still claim reimbursement from their health insurer for rapid antigen tests, although as of November 2023, those tests have to be obtained “in-network.”

To be sure, the virus by no means vanished after the emergency orders ended. In 2024, COVID-19 continues to affect lives every day and testing can still be a key tool for reducing your risks of infecting others.

Here are some pointers on how to secure a COVID-19 test.

Order free at-home COVID tests from the US government via USPS

Friday, March 8, is your last chance to order four free at-home COVID-19 antigen tests from covidtests.gov. No payment or credit card details will be required to place an order. You also won’t need to provide any ID or health insurance information.

You can place your order for these four free COVID-19 tests online at USPS.com (the direct link from covidtests.gov) or order from USPS by phone at 800-232-0233.

After placing an order, you’ll also see a message that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the expiration dates on these tests. So don’t worry if you see “expired” on any box of tests you receive — you can still use them. See the FDA’s full list of expiration date extensions.

Every residential address (and residential P.O. box) in the United States is eligible to receive one order of four at-home COVID-19 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.

A woman with black hair and dark brown skin, wearing a black skirt and bright pink sweater walks across a stone plaza in the background. In the foreground is a blue sign saying "No Cost To You" COVID-19 Testing. A pink swirl wraps around the words: No Cost To You.
COVID-19 testing has changed hugely over the course of the pandemic. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

This program is separate from the one that allows folks with private health insurance to get reimbursed for the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests. Read more about getting reimbursed by your health insurer for at-home tests.

Find a COVID test through your health care provider

If you are insured with major Bay Area providers such as Kaiser Permanente or Sutter Health, the easiest option to secure a COVID-19 test may be to make an appointment through that particular provider. Most providers offer sign-ups online through a member’s login, and appointments can also be made by phone.

Remember that people with private insurance may experience new out-of-pocket costs for PCR tests after the end of the emergency orders in 2023, depending on the provider.

Medicare will continue to cover PCR test costs. And under the American Rescue Plan, people on Medicaid can continue to get free at-home tests until September 2024.

Most people, regardless of insurance coverage, will have to pay for over-the-counter rapid at-home COVID-19 tests after the federal emergency order ends. Thanks to a state bill passed in October 2021, Californians can still claim reimbursement from their health insurer for rapid antigen tests, although as of November 2023, those tests have to be obtained “in-network.”

Find a COVID test through California’s statewide testing map

California’s map of COVID-19 testing and treatment sites will remain up and running after the state of emergency ends.

Since so many vaccination sites have closed in 2023 with the end of the emergency orders, call ahead before making the trip for a drop-in, just in case a site closure isn’t reflected on this map.

A hand holds an at-home COVID test, while another person's hand points to the test.
Free COVID-19 tests are much harder to find in 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

Find a COVID test through the CDC’s No-Cost Testing Locator

The CDC still maintains a nationwide map of COVID-19 testing locations at testinglocator.cdc.gov, and all testing facilities listed on the site “are available at no cost for people without health insurance” through the Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program.

In the Bay Area, you’ll find that the locations returned when you search for a free COVID-19 test through testinglocator.cdc.gov are primarily pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, and Quest Patient Service Centers.

Find a COVID test through your Bay Area county

The majority of the county testing sites you saw at the height of the pandemic have now shut down — but your county may have several sites still operating, often in partnership with community groups.

Updated testing site locations can be found at each county’s testing webpage below, although you may find some of these pages redirect you to the state or U.S. testing location finders instead.

San Mateo COVID-19 testing page now says that “State-sponsored COVID-19 testing has ended in San Mateo County” and that PCR and antigen tests “remain widely available through health care providers and pharmacies.” Sonoma County’s COVID-19 testing page does not offer county residents any free or low-cost testing locations or resources without insurance and instead says that you should “request a test from your health care provider or use an over-the-counter antigen test purchased at a local pharmacy.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has a list of community-based testing sites around the country. Select California in the “Find Testing Resources” dropdown.

Find a COVID test through your local public library

Many libraries around the Bay Area began giving out antigen tests earlier this winter to anyone who wanted one — with no proof of library card or county residency required. Your local public library may still be offering free COVID-19 tests.

Find a COVID test through private providers

Always check to see how much you might be charged for a COVID-19 test at these private testing facilities before your visit. Below are some of the private providers still offering COVID-19 testing in the Bay Area:

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Find a COVID test at your local pharmacy

Walgreens offers free PCR tests to take home and mail in, with results in about two days. Walgreens says that no insurance is required, but you must register your collection kit with Labcorp to receive results.

Other pharmacies that previously offered free COVID-19 testing on-site, in a pharmacy location, have started charging for those same tests after the end of the federal emergency. Be careful to read the billing details if you are uninsured and it is marked as “free” or “no-cost.” Check the following pharmacy websites to see what’s available in your area:

If you have health insurance, you can also purchase at-home COVID-19 testing kits from a pharmacy and request reimbursement from your insurer. Find out how to claim reimbursement from your insurer for rapid antigen tests.

Find a COVID test from your school district

Many Bay Area school districts have offered COVID-19 testing for students and staff — and sometimes the families of students — during the pandemic, and some may have continued their programs into this school year. For example, Oakland Unified still offers at-home COVID-19 tests for students to take home.

Check directly with your child’s school.

A reminder on when to test for COVID

Regardless of your vaccination status, if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested. Remind yourself of the COVID-19 symptoms to watch for.

As for the best time to test, if you’ve heard that incubation times for the virus are getting shorter — that is, the amount of time between getting exposed to COVID-19 and testing positive — it’s true. People are testing positive for COVID-19 more quickly than in 2020, when the average incubation period was five days because the incubation period has changed with each new variant, confirms Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. In 2024, he says, it now makes sense to take a test as early as two days after a possible exposure if you’re experiencing symptoms.

But there’s another wrinkle: Some medical experts say they’ve noticed that at this stage of the pandemic, it’s often taking much longer for people to get a positive test result on an at-home antigen test. In other words, they’re observing that people with COVID-19 symptoms are taking an antigen test and getting a negative result — only to get a positive result on a different test several days later. This means that many people could wrongly assume they don’t have COVID-19 after that first negative test and then inadvertently spread the virus to friends and family. Read more about why your COVID-19 symptoms might be starting earlier and what to do if you initially test negative.

An earlier version of this story originally published on Sept. 28, 2023.

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