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Need a Free COVID Test? Try Your Local Public Library

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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)

Almost four years into the COVID-19 pandemic, finding a free antigen test has become a lot harder.

And with COVID-19 numbers on the rise again as the holidays approach — and high levels of respiratory virus around the state generally, including RSV and flu — establishing whether your runny nose and sore throat is, in fact, COVID-19 may have become even more of a priority in your own household recently.

One place you now might be able to find a free COVID-19 at-home test? Your local public library.

Free COVID-19 tests, no library card needed

Many libraries around the Bay Area have a supply of antigen tests to give out to anyone who wants one — with no proof of library card or county residency required. One of those is the San Francisco Public Library system, which distributes 15,000 free tests this winter in multiple branch locations around the city. The library is not limiting how many tests a person can take.

Dolly Goyal, the library’s chief of public services, says these free tests will be beneficial for families as schools around the county get ready to close for the holidays. The library system, she says, wants “to make sure families get these before they might go on vacation or anywhere else” to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

More COVID Guides From KQED

The San Francisco Public Library urges community members to take as many antigen tests as they feel they need — because those at-home kits expire early in 2024. That said, the San Francisco Public Health Department says COVID-19 tests can still be used past the expiration date.

You can check the FDA’s list of antigen test types to see whether the box you’re holding has had its shelf life extended by the manufacturer. The FDA says that if a test’s shelf life has been extended, it’s because the manufacturer has given the agency enough “data showing that the shelf-life is longer than was known when the test was first authorized.” (In other words, it’s still OK to use that test.)

Keep reading to determine whether your Bay Area county’s public library offers free COVID-19 antigen tests this winter. And if they aren’t, we have tips on where else to still find free or low-cost COVID-19 testing near you below.

(Looking for information on the best time to take a COVID-19 test if you’re experiencing symptoms? Read our guide to current COVID-19 incubation periods.)

The Bay Area public libraries giving out free COVID-19 tests

Individual libraries may have different limits on how many COVID-19 tests you can take each time. County library systems are also often separate from city libraries — so you may wish to ask your local city library, too.

San Francisco 

See above: The San Francisco Public Library is distributing COVID-19 tests at its locations around the city. Find your local San Francisco Public Library branch.

Berkeley

Starting Monday, Dec. 18, Berkeley public libraries will have “a limited supply” of free COVID-19 tests at every location. Find your local Berkeley Public Library branch.

Contra Costa County

All 26 of Contra Costa County Library’s locations offer free COVID-19 tests. Find your local Contra Costa County Library branch.

Solano County

Free COVID-19 tests are available at every location of the Solano County Library. Find your local Solano County Library branch.

San Mateo, Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties have confirmed to KQED that they are not currently offering COVID-19 tests at their library locations.

While the Santa Clara County Library District is not currently offering free COVID-19 tests, county residents can pick up free antigen tests at any Better Health Pharmacy. We’ll update this guide with information about Alameda County.

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Where else can I find a free or low-cost COVID-19 test near me?

Order free at-home COVID-19 tests from the U.S. government via USPS

You can once again order four free at-home COVID-19 antigen tests from covidtests.gov or by phone at 800-232-0233.

Get reimbursed for COVID test purchases by your health insurance

California law dictates that your insurer still has to offer reimbursement for the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests, although as of Nov. 12, they can require that you purchase these “in-network.” Read more about getting reimbursed for COVID-19 tests by your insurer.

Find a COVID-19 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 personal login, and appointments can also be made by phone.

Find a COVID-19 test through the state or federal government

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.

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.

You can also use the California Department of Public Health’s map of COVID-19 testing and treatment sites.

Find a COVID-19 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. Find your county in our list of COVID-19 testing resources.

Find a COVID-19 test at your local pharmacy

Walgreens offers free PCR tests to take home and mail in, with results in about two days. Walgreens says no insurance is required, but you must register your collection kit with Labcorp to receive results. Read more about COVID-19 testing at your local pharmacy.

Find a COVID-19 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. Check directly with your child’s school.

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023. We’ve published clear, practical explainers and guides about COVID-19, how to cope with intense winter weather, and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger and help us decide what to cover here on our site and on KQED Public Radio, too.

KQED’s Emily Calix and Sydney Johnson contributed reporting to this story.

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