How to get, administer an at-home COVID test; where to get free N95 masks in Bloomington

·4 min read

The Biden administration announced recently the federal government will provide each household up to four at-home COVID-19 tests and distribute up to three N95 masks per person through pharmacies and community health centers free of charge.

In addition to better masks, vaccines and boosters, Americans are encouraged to use COVID-19 tests to slow the spread of the pandemic amid the omicron surge.

Many Americans will be self-administering a rapid at-home test for the first time or scouring store shelves. Here are some of the facts and tips to know before taking a test.

Correct way to self-administer a COVID test

While there are several different kinds of rapid at-home tests for the coronavirus, there are a few commonalities and tips that work across the board. Many at-home tests require the user to place a swab about an inch into their nose and gently rotate the swab around the sides of each nostril for 15 seconds.

More: Cases continue to soar in most recent COVID-19 school dashboard report

With the variety of at-home tests available, it is important to make sure you understand and follow the directions for each one. The first step that Indiana University Epidemiology Education Director Thomas Duszynski recommends is to thoroughly read the instructions. Even better if you can read through the steps with a partner. Keep the instructions at-hand so you can move smoothly to each step.

COVID test kit promo image
COVID test kit promo image

Duszynski's next tip is to wash your hands well with warm water and soap, before completely drying off your hands to reduce the risk of bacteria or other contaminants skewing the results. He also recommends using a disinfectant wipe on whatever surfaces you will use while taking the test, such as kitchen counter or table.

Set a timer on your phone for the amount of time you need to wait for the results to properly appear. "If it says wait 10 minutes, put 10 minutes on your phone timer and don't peek," Duszynski said. "Don't look ahead, just use what's on the timer. Those steps alone will help ensure you're getting the most accurate test possible."

How to order at-home tests from the government

Americans interested in getting their free tests need to go to www.covidtests.gov, or call 1-800-232-0233 or TTY 1-888-720-7489. No identification, insurance information or credit card is necessary to place an order on the government website, only your name and address.

In addition to directly supplying at-home tests, the federal government ordered insurers to reimburse Americans for up to eight tests a month per person covered.

Difference between at-home rapid tests and PCR lab tests

According to Duszynski, a PCR test, or polymerase chain reaction test, also starts with a nasal swab in both nostrils. However, unlike an at-home test, the swab goes back in a test tube and it gets sent to a lab.

The lab uses a polymerase chain reaction to try to reproduce what is on the swab and see whether or not it is COVID-19.

More: IU students' lawsuit challenging COVID-19 vaccination mandate dismissed

Although PCR tests are more sensitive to the coronavirus, Duszynski said rapid at-home tests have their place in protecting oneself and others from the virus that has killed more than 800,000 Americans.

"They really have a use, and we saw this especially with the emergence of omicron and the holidays," Duszynski said. "They're great, they're convenient and the sensitivity, especially for the nasal swab ones, is pretty high. So what that does is give people a chance to protect themselves and others."

Don't forget about masks: N95s available

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that each person is allowed up to three free N95 masks pending availability from the strategic national stockpile. Beginning this week, shipments have begun arriving at grocery stores and pharmacies across the Midwest.

A number of businesses with Monroe County locations will have the masks, including Kroger, CVS Pharmacy and Walmart. Kroger announced it will distribute the masks as soon as it gets a shipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, but had no timeline as of Wednesday morning.

Contact Patrick McGerr at pmcgerr@heraldt.com, 812-307-5636, or follow @patrickmcgerr on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: At-home COVID testing advice; locations with N95 masks Bloomington

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