How to Order Free COVID-19 Tests Online From the Government Starting Today

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Gone are the days when Hollywood stars and the well-connected were among those who could get rapidly tested for the coronavirus. After the Food and Drug Administration approved the first at-home diagnostic coronavirus test more than a year ago for emergency use, buying COVID-19 tests online and over the counter has become commonplace — so long as the hot commodity is in stock.

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Coronavirus testing appointments and at-home test kits are in high demand following the busy holiday season of back-to-back gatherings and the omicron surge, which has caused event cancellations and temporary shutterings of movie theaters and other businesses. Cities including Los Angeles launched take-home PCR test kit programs, and the U.S. government is also providing five million free PCR tests to schools per month and increasing the number of free tests from 500 million to 1 billion.

When Can You Order Free COVID-19 Tests from the Government?

President Joe Biden announced in a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Jan. 13, that his administration will allow Americans to order free rapid antigen at-home tests to be shipped to their homes. Originally slated to go live Jan. 19, the Biden administration’s website, COVIDTests.gov, launched a day early. The government says the program will prioritize “processing orders to households experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths.”

Also called over-the-counter or self-tests, the free COVID-19 tests give results within 30 minutes. They work regardless of whether or not you are having symptoms or have up-to-date vaccines.

Tests will be limited to four per residential address and will ship via first-class package service within seven to 12 days of ordering. Those with accessibility issues can call toll-free at 800-232-0233 to place their order over the phone.

Antigen Versus PCR Versus Antibody COVID-19 Tests: What’s the Difference?

There are two types of COVID-19 tests: diagnostic tests, which can be done at home and at local testing sites; and antibody tests, which require a prescription from a health care provider.

Per the FDA, there are two types of diagnostics tests used to detect an active COVID-19 infection from specimens collected with a nasal or throat swab or saliva collected into a tube: molecular (RT-PCR or PCR) tests and antigen tests (also called rapid diagnostic tests).

The main difference between the two is that antigen tests “detect specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus,” and you can get results in as little as 10 to 45 minutes. Molecular tests (PCR) detect viral RNA, and it may take up to several days to receive results after tests are processed in a lab, according to Harvard Health.

The prescription-only antibody tests are not used to diagnose an active coronavirus infection. Instead, they “look for antibodies in your immune system produced in response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” says the FDA. A blood sample is needed for an antibody test, and it must be administered by a doctor or another medical professional.

Are At-Home COVID-19 Test Kits Covered by Insurance?

Yes, COVID-19 tests are covered by insurance. The White House is requiring that private health insurance companies cover the cost of over-the-counter diagnostic tests starting Saturday, Jan. 15.

Under the requirement, insurance companies and health plans must cover eight free at-home tests per person under the same plan. Some insurance plans will be working with preferred pharmacies and retailers to distribute the free tests to insured people with no out-of-pocket sets, eliminating the need to submit reimbursement claims.

Are At-Home COVID-19 Tests Effective?

As The New York Times points out, “no medical test is perfect [and] there has always been a risk of a false positive or a false negative result” when test-takers don’t properly follow directions. Most COVID-19 tests are “generally accurate when used correctly but in some cases can appear to show a positive result when exposed to other liquids,” the newspaper reports.

Health experts say that PCR tests are the most accurate option as they require a lab to process specimens, according to Harvard Health. Over-the-counter COVID-19 tests “tend to be less accurate,” but they’re still helpful “when quick results are needed or for general screening and surveillance,” the university says.

However, the FDA recently alerted consumers to stop using tests that don’t meet accuracy standards, including LuSys Laboratories’ COVID-19 antigen and antibody tests, both of which, the agency says, have “a high risk of false results.”

Where to Buy COVID-19 Tests Online

If you anticipate needing more than the allotted number of free tests per month, you don’t have health insurance or you prefer to keep PCR tests on hand at home, there are other ways to order COVID-19 tests online. Tests approved by the FDA for emergency use are available in stores and online at authorized pharmacies and retailers, and the government agency warns against buying COVID-19 tests from sellers on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other online marketplaces to avoid potentially fake products. The FDA has a full list of fraudulent coronavirus tests and treatments on its website, and the Federal Trade Commission recommends researching the company or brand name and looking at reviews before buying tests at an unfamiliar website.

Below, we’ve gathered a handful of authorized retailers that offer at-home antigen and PCR testing kits online for shipping or in-store pickup, including Amazon, CVS, Everlywell, GoPuff, Walgreens and Walmart.

Amazon

The online giant has its own PCR test kit as well as third-party brands that are authorized by the FDA. Note that some shoppers have spotted counterfeit product listings, so be sure to look at reviews thoroughly.

Amazon COVID-19 Test Collection Kit

Amazon’s COVID-19 PCR test collection kit was briefly in stock before selling out again, so it’s worth checking the online retailer often for inventory updates. The over-the-counter test collects your saliva and requires same-day drop-off at a UPS location. You’ll be able to view your results online within a few days. It’s suitable for ages 18 and up.

Amazon COVID-19 Test Collection Kit
Amazon COVID-19 Test Collection Kit

Buy: Amazon COVID-19 Test Collection Kit $39.99

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack

iHealth’s popular antigen rapid tests deliver results in 15 minutes. They come in a package of two and tests are suitable for ages 2 and up.

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack
iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack

Buy: iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test 2-Pack $19.80

On/Go at-Home COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Self-Test, 2-Pack

On/Go’s COVID-19 antigen self-test comes in a pack of two and is suitable for children as young as 2. Results come in 10 minutes, and On/Go’s app lets you download and share your results.

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test
On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test

Buy: On/Go at-Home COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Self-Test, 2-Pack $24.00

DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva At-Home Collection Kit

DxTerity’s at-home COVID-19 PCR test requires you to collect your saliva in a tube, which you’ll then mail to their lab via FedEx that same day. Reviewers say they receive an email notification within a few days that their test results are available to view and download through DxTerity’s app.

DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at Home Collection Kit
DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at Home Collection Kit

Buy: DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva At-Home Collection Kit $85.00

CVS

Select COVID-19 home test kits at CVS are available at the drugstore chain’s drive-through locations or ship free with the retailer’s CareFree pass when you place an online order of $35 or more. Tests are limited to six per order.

FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test

Flowflex’s antigen home test gives results in 15 minutes and can be used to test children ages 2 and up.

FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test
FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test

FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test $10

Buy now

QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kit, 2-Pack

Get results in as little as 10 minutes with QuickVue’s over-the-counter COVID-19 test, which comes in a pack of two and is suitable for ages 2 and up.

QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kit, 2-Pack
QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kit, 2-Pack

QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kits, 2-Pack $24

Buy now

Everlywell

Online wellness-monitoring and health-education platform Everlywell offers a range of at-home lab tests, including for COVID-19.

BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Test

BD Veritor’s rapid antigen serial COVID-19 test lets you receive digital results in 15 minutes on a compatible iPhone, Google or Samsung smartphone using the Scanwell app. The test was designed to be used twice over two to three days, with 24 to 48 hours between tests. Note that it is not suitable for ages 2 and under.

BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Test
BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Test

BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Test $35

Buy now

Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit

Everlywell’s COVID-19 home sample collection kit gives you secure digital results within 24 to 72 hours after you ship your sample to the company’s lab. It requires you to self-collect Monday through Friday and return the sample to Everlywell’s designated overnight shipping carrier drop-off location that same day.

Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit
Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit

Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit $109

Buy now

GoPuff

Depending on availability, you can order select COVID-19 tests from BinaxNow, On/Go and others as well as snacks, alcohol and other convenience store essentials through GoPuff. The on-demand service delivers your order (minimum of $11) within 30 minutes or less. You can also sign up for a GoPuff Fam membership, which is $6 per month and includes free shipping and other perks.

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test
On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test $24

Buy now

The Always Ready Lite Pack with BinaxNow Test Kit

Gopuff Always Ready Lite Pack BinaxNow
Gopuff Always Ready Lite Pack BinaxNow

The Always Ready Lite Pack with BinaxNow Test Kit $57

Buy now

Walgreens

Depending on available inventory, Walgreens offers same-day delivery for select COVID-19 at-home tests, including kits from Abbott BinaxNow, FlowFlex, InteliSwab, Pixel by Labcorp and others.

Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit, 2-Pack

The BinaxNow COVID-19 antigen self-test at home kit offers results in 15 minutes, and the company suggests that you test yourself twice within three days with at least 36 hours between tests.

BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit
BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit


BinaxNow COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit, 2-Pack $24

Buy now

Walmart

The discount retailer’s inventory of COVID-19 antigen and antibody at-home tests includes On/Go, iHealth, DxTerity and others, with two- and three-day shipping available on some products.

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test
On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test

On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test $30

Buy now

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack
iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test, 2-Pack $18

Buy now

DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva At-Home Collection Kit

DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at Home Collection Kit
DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at Home Collection Kit

DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva At-Home Collection Kit $85

Buy now

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