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This month, the U.S. federal government renewed an initiative to send free at-home COVID tests to Americans. The winter season is coming, and with the cold and more time spent indoors comes the season of respiratory diseases. Here’s everything you need to know about the federal government’s free COVID test program, how to get your free tests, and how to keep yourself safe from COVID and other illnesses this fall and winter.
When did the government start sending out free COVID tests?
In January 2023, the U.S. government launched a program to provide free COVID home tests to Americans through a government website dedicated to the virus. The program allowed households to order four free test kits per month, which could detect the currently circulating COVID variants. However, the program was suspended in May 2023, after COVID was declared to no longer be a public health emergency, to preserve test supply in the event of future outbreaks.
As the colder months approach and the demand for home COVID tests increases, the U.S. government has decided to relaunch the program starting on September 25. The new test kits will have extended expiration dates and will be intended for use through the end of 2023. The U.S. government has also invested $600 million to boost domestic production and purchase of over-the-counter COVID tests.
What other respiratory diseases should you watch out for this year?
COVID isn’t the only disease that’ll be spreading more rapidly this fall, as the colder season means higher transmission rates for all airborne diseases. Airborne diseases are caused by viruses or bacteria that are transmitted through droplets in the air, created when someone sneezes, coughs, or exhales. Spending more time indoors means all these diseases will move from person to person faster.
In addition to COVID, the CDC has warned Americans about potential outbreaks of influenza (the flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this fall and winter. According to their 2023-2024 Respiratory Disease Season Outlook, the CDC estimates that between these three viruses, we’ll see an average of 17 to 23 new hospitalizations per week per 100,000 people.
How can you get free at-home COVID tests?
To get your free at-home COVID tests, visit covid.gov/tests, and you’ll be able to place an order. Each household is able to order four individual rapid antigen COVID tests to be sent to your home; they’ll be shipped out starting the first week of October. The CDC and FDA also recommend you check any older tests you still have at home so you can avoid wasting them if they haven’t yet expired.
The free COVID home test program is a valuable resource for Americans who want to protect themselves and others from the virus. By ordering and using the test kits when you need them, you can help mitigate the spread of COVID and contribute to the national recovery effort. Remember to take other basic health precautions like washing your hands often and avoiding contact with others when you’re sick.