The federal government is restarting its mail-order Covid test program, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week.
The program was halted when the public health emergency ended in May this year. Since then, people in the US have had to pay for home tests, even as hospitalizations and deaths from the virus have risen steadily in recent weeks.
The HHS statement announcing the renewal of the mail-order program said the Biden administration also provided $600 million to manufacturers of Covid tests across the country. “These critical investments in American manufacturing will improve preparedness for COVID-19 and other pandemic threats in the future, strengthen the nation's ability to manufacture tests, and secure approximately 200 million new over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for future use by federal government,” the statement said.
Starting Monday, September 25, Americans will be able to order free tests from COVIDTests.gov. All households are eligible for four tests.
If you have symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested right away. If you are only going to do one test, choose a PCR test, rather than a home test, as they are more reliable. If you use a home test instead and the result is negative, you will want to do another test in 48 hours or do a PCR test right away to confirm the result.
If you have been exposed to Covid but have no symptoms, the CDC recommends waiting at least five full days before testing. If you are only going to do it once, you should do a PCR test. If you use a home test instead and the result is negative, you should be retested in 48 hours. If the second test is negative, you should wait another 48 hours and take it a third time. Following these guidelines is the best way to make sure your tests are accurate, experts say.
If you find an old test in your home that has expired, you should not use it unless the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given it an extended expiration date. The FDA has provided a list of products that have been given this designation on its website. The list includes product names, lot numbers, original expiration dates, and extended expiration dates.
In addition to free tests, some pharmacies offer free Covid-19 vaccines. The CDC's Bridge Access Program offers up-to-date Covid-19 vaccines to people who don't have health insurance (or those whose health insurance doesn't cover the vaccine).
To find a participating pharmacy and make an appointment, you can visit Vaccines.gov. After choosing the vaccine you are looking for, you can filter the pharmacies participating in the program.
Experts warn that the US must use all available resources to avoid the potentially devastating effects of a “triple pandemic” this winter, which could happen if cases of Covid-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) peak at the same time ). If that happens, U.S. hospitals and urgent care centers could see delays in regularly scheduled appointments like cancer screenings.
To minimize the chances of this scenario, public health officials say Americans should stay current on all vaccines and get tested when needed to slow the spread of the virus.
The CDC recently was released a video showing director Dr Mandy Cohen talking about the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, in particular, which are recommended for everyone six months and older.
“While we would all like to put Covid-19 behind us, the virus is still here and it makes some people very sick, especially the elderly,” said Dr Cohen. “This recommendation was based on extensive data in clinical trials. As a doctor, mom, wife, daughter, and head of the CDC, I wouldn't recommend anything to others that I wouldn't recommend for my own family. That's why my nine and 11-year-old daughters, my husband, my parents and I will be rolling up our sleeves to get our updated Covid-19 vaccine.”