Given this trend, even with a lack of studies on the newer variant, it “makes sense that if someone has symptoms as quickly as two days after exposure, they should test rather than waiting the full five days,” Chin-Hong said. “But if [you test] negative at two to three days, rinse and repeat.”
In other words, if you gathered on Thanksgiving last week and started feeling a little sick back on Sunday — three days after the event itself — don’t wait to test. Test now.
How to find a COVID test (with or without insurance)
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Finding a quick, free COVID test — whether an at-home antigen test or a PCR test — has gotten progressively harder at this stage of the pandemic, as more sites and services have been shuttered for good. However, the federal government has restarted its free at-home COVID-test-ordering service through USPS, meaning you can once again order another four free antigen tests to be delivered to your door.
If you don’t already have a supply of antigen tests for COVID at home, these are your options:
Purchase a COVID at-home antigen test at a pharmacy near you
The quickest option will also be one of the most expensive up-front: Purchasing an at-home antigen test at a nearby pharmacy. (Ideally, ask someone to purchase one for you, so you don’t potentially expose other people at the pharmacy.) These at-home test kits are usually around $20 for a pack of two antigen tests.
If you have health insurance, you will be able to request reimbursement from your health insurer for the cost of up to eight at-home tests per month, so don’t throw away your receipts.
Find a COVID PCR testing site near you
PCR testing is more accurate than an antigen test — because it’s more sensitive at picking up traces of the coronavirus in your body — but it may take longer to get your results than with an at-home test.
Currently, there are still some sites offering free COVID testing around the state. Try using:
If you have health insurance, contact your provider
If you are insured with major Bay Area providers such as Kaiser Permanente or Sutter Health, the easiest option to secure a COVID test may be to make an appointment through your particular provider. Most providers offer sign-ups online through a member’s login and appointments can also be made by phone.
For more ideas on how to find a free or low-cost COVID test near you, see the KQED guide which includes finding a test through your Bay Area county’s public health department, or at a private testing site.
You can also read our guide to using at-home antigen tests in 2023 and how effective they are.