CDC Considering an End to COVID Isolation: Get Your Free Tests While You Still Can – CNET

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Reports began cropping up last week that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to shift away from its current COVID isolation guidelines. Instead of the current recommendation of five days, the CDC will ask that those who’ve tested positive isolate until they’ve been without fever for at least 24 hours and their symptoms are mild and steadily improving, according to The Washington Post, which cited an unnamed source. 

Nothing has yet been confirmed by the CDC, and while the change isn’t definite (we’ll update this story if the agency does modify its guidance) it can still be worrying for some. If you want to take the news as a prompt to ensure you have COVID-19 tests available to you and your family, you’re in luck. If you know where to look, it’s still pretty easy to get your hands on free tests, vaccines and treatments. 

Off and on since January 2022, the US Postal Service has been taking orders for free COVID-19 tests. And right now you can still place an order for four more free COVID tests.

The federal government first paused the program in September 2022 when it ran out of tests and funding, then restarted it in December of that year, and then halted it again in May of 2023 after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The program kicked back into gear in September, with an offer of four free tests per household; then continued in November, with another four free tests available.

If you ordered the free tests in September but not since then, you’re able to order four more. If you didn’t order any COVID tests from the Postal Service in September either, you can now place two orders, for a total of eight tests. 

Read more: Your Expired COVID Test Kits Are Probably Still Good. How to Find Out

Read on to find out how you can get the free tests and to learn about other ways to get free COVID testing, treatment and vaccines.

For more, here’s what to know about long COVID, and here’s how to tell if it’s COVID, allergies or something else.

How does the USPS free COVID-19 test program work?

In January 2022, President Joe Biden announced the launch of CovidTests.gov, a website where households could order four free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests shipped by the Postal Service. The site added more free tests in March 2022, May 2022 and again last winter. The newest rounds of shipments also include four COVID tests.

Unlike some complicated government applications, ordering free tests from the Postal Service is simple. It takes less than two minutes to complete a short form that asks for your name and mailing address, and the tests ship in a week or two. People without internet access or folks who have trouble ordering online can request tests using a toll-free phone number: 800-232-0233.

It isn’t clear exactly how long the free COVID-19 tests will last, so it’s best to get your order in soon.

How do I order free tests?

You only need to provide a few bits of information to get your kits. You won’t be asked to provide any credit or debit card details, as both the tests and the shipping are free. Here’s how to get your free at-home test kits.

1. Visit special.USPS.com/testkits. You can also get there via covidtests.gov.
2. Enter your contact details and shipping information.
3. Click Check Out Now.
4. Verify that your information is correct and select Place My Order.

All orders will be shipped via First Class Package Service.

People who can’t access the website or who have trouble ordering online can call 800-232-0233 to order their free tests.

When will my test kits arrive?

Tests are typically sent out within seven to 12 days of an order being successfully placed and are delivered by the Postal Service within one to three days of shipping.

What are my other free testing options? 

Aside from the tests from the Postal Service, you have three main avenues to find free COVID-19 testing locations across the US: HRSA health centers, Test to Treat locations and ICATT testing sites. These options function similarly, but we’ll break down the specific steps to find your nearest free testing location.

HRSA health centers offer free COVID-19 testing

map of HRSA health center locations for COVID testing near Detroit

HRSA health centers offer free COVID-19 testing. 

HRSA/Screenshot by CNET

The Health Resources and Services Administration funds health centers across the US. At these HRSA health centers, you will be able to receive free COVID-19 testing. You can use HRSA’s locator tool to find a center near you.

First, select the language you would like to receive your results in. Then simply enter the location you wish to search into the box labeled Location. The locator also allows you to widen your search radius, so you can see all the options your area has to offer. 

Once you’ve found a center that works for you, click through to that particular location’s website and follow their specific instructions for obtaining a free COVID-19 test. 

Test to Treat locations have COVID testing and medicine

map of Test to Treat locations for COVID testing near Atlanta

The Test to Treat program makes COVID testing and therapeutics more accessible. 

HHS/Screenshot by CNET

Test to Treat is a federally funded health care initiative that provides more accessible COVID-19 care. This option differs from the others in this article as you can use the Test to Treat centers to receive both COVID testing and treatment for infections. Like the other COVID-19 free testing options, Test to Treat has a locator tool that you can use to find an eligible Test to Treat center near you. 

The Test to Treat center locator works like the other COVID testing search tools. Enter your location into the search bar and the tool will display Test to Treat locations in your area. A sliding bar lets you resize the search radius to capture all of the Test to Treat centers within your area. 

Within the Test to Treat locator results, you’ll be able to see each location’s address, which COVID-19 therapeutics they offer and other special instructions you might need to know to get tested. If there’s not an option to schedule a COVID test online through your chosen site, you may need to call.

Increasing Community Access to Testing provides COVID testing for the uninsured

a map showing ICATT COVID testing locations near Chicago

ICATT offers free testing to uninsured patients who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who have recently been exposed.

CDC/Screenshot by CNET

Increasing Community Access to Testing, or ICATT, is another free testing program that you can use if you need access to free COVID-19 testing. ICATT works a bit differently than the other programs on this list. 

ICATT is specifically designed for uninsured patients who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone can get an ICATT test at one of the program’s locations, regardless of insurance status. If you are uninsured and you wish to be tested at an ICATT-eligible site, you will not need to pay for your test. If you are insured, you might need to pay a fee. 

The ICATT locator tool works just like the other locator tools for free COVID testing — input your address or your ZIP code to find ICATT locations near you. There is a search radius adjuster in this locator to tweak your searches to capture the entire area that you want to search. 

Once you’ve found a location, follow your testing site’s steps for scheduling your appointment. 

How can I get free COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots?

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are an important protection against contracting or getting seriously ill from the virus. Since the CDC has recommended updated COVID-19 booster shots for everyone 6 months or older, you might be wondering how to find free COVID-19 vaccines. 

If you don’t have insurance or a health provider, don’t worry. The Department of Health and Human Services website says, “COVID-19 vaccines are 100% free for every individual living in the United States.”

On Sept. 14, the Department of Health and Human Services launched the Bridge Access Program, which will continue to provide free vaccines to those who are uninsured through local health departments and HRSA centers. CDC has also partnered with “more than 20,000 retail pharmacy locations nationwide” to provide free vaccines by modifying the existing ICATT program mentioned above.

The Bridge Access Program will end in December 2024, but until then, you’ll be able to access free COVID-19 vaccines. To use it, go to vaccines.gov, choose which shot you want, and then click the “search” button. On the next page, select the option that says “Bridge Access Program Participant” to show which locations offer no-cost vaccines. 

For more, learn how your blood type could make you more susceptible to COVID and everything to know about the updated COVID-19 boosters.

Correction, Sept. 21, 2023: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the cost of vaccines for people without insurance. It has been updated with information about how people can get free vaccines.

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