Free COVID tests are still available

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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.

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Vigilance is still necessary against COVID-19. At-home testing is vital way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your co-workers as the virus continues to make its rounds in Minnesota and elsewhere.

The do-it-yourself tests — made by Binax, Flowflex and others — are easy to use and can deliver results in around 15 minutes. That knowledge can spur someone to seek treatment, such as getting a prescription for Paxlovid, a powerful antiviral medication that must be taken within five days of symptoms' arrival. Or, take preventive action by forgoing gatherings where COVID might easily spread to others.

It's a good idea to have a stash of tests on hand to rapidly know if you're infected. But these tests aren't cheap. A five-pack of Flowflex tests, for example, lists for $34.99 at Target. In addition, these tests have sometime been in short supply during previous COVID surges.

Fortunately, public programs that made tests available and delivered to your home at no cost during the pandemic's emergency phase are still up and running. Minnesotans can boost their pocketbook's health by ordering the tests ahead of time, with options available from both the state and federal governments.

The state program has an easy-to-remember link: sayyeshometest.org. Minnesotans can order four free tests per household monthly while supplies last, according to state health officials. The process is straightforward. It involves entering your ZIP code and address. Orders are filled through Amazon and typically arrive in three to five days. An editorial writer's most recent order showed up a day later on her rural doorstep.

The state's website also provides guidance on what to do if a test if positive. Or, if it's negative — a result that should prompt more testing. That's another reason to have tests on hand. "Soon after being infected, you may not have enough virus in your body for the test to find it. This is why frequent at-home testing is recommended," according to the website's digital assistant.

The federal free test program has a similar process, but supplies may be more limited. "Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order an additional 4 free at-home tests beginning November 20. If you did not order tests this fall, you may place two orders for a total of 8 tests," program information states. To order these tests, go to tinyurl.com/FreeFedTests. Or, call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

COVID strikes with little warning. Being prepared to detect this illness as soon as possible is common sense.