With the winter holidays fast approaching, you should take a few minutes today to order the free at-home COVID-19 tests the US Postal Service has for you. Getting tested before gathering with friends and family can help reduce the likelihood of coronavirus infections or reinfections.
All residential addresses in the US, Puerto Rico and other US territories, as well as those linked to foreign military and diplomatic personnel, can re-order four free rapid antigen tests from the USPS. Although the federal government suspended the program in September, the Biden administration reopened orders Thursday following a spike in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving. Order shipments will begin the week of December 19, the White House said.
If you still have the tests you ordered in January, mid march, or mid-May order windows, don’t throw them away: Use the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) home test database to see if their expiration dates have been extended. Since Congress has not approved additional funding for a federal response to COVID-19, it pays to keep as many usable tests as you can.
How to order free home COVID tests
Ordering proofs is easy: go to the special USPS website, enter your name, provide your shipping address (even if it’s a residential PO Box), and press check now under the order summary confirming that delivery is completely free. You may also provide an email address if you wish to receive shipping notifications, but it is not required.
Those who live in multi-family, cohabitation, or other shared living spaces can order more than one as long as the USPS knows the address is home to multiple unrelated families, but they may not be able to if the government doesn’t know they live various families. there. If that happens, you can file a service request or call the USPS Help Desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS to try to fix it.
If you need help placing an order, you can call 1-800-232-0233 Monday through Friday between 8 am and 8 pm Eastern Standard Time, or between 8 am and 5 pm on weekends. for support in English, Spanish, and over 150 other languages. There is also a TTY or text telephone number at 1-888-720-7489 and the aforementioned USPS Help Desk.
People with disabilities can call the Disability Information and Access Line at 1-888-677-1199 between 9 am and 8 pm EST, Monday through Friday, or email DIAL@usaginganddisability.org.
If you provide an email address when you order, you will receive shipping notifications and be able to track the package on the USPS website. You cannot pick up the evidence anywhere, not even at your local post office; they will always arrive at the address you provided, the agency says.
As long as your tests haven’t expired, the government recommends you get them if you start to have COVID symptoms like fever, sore throat, runny nose, or loss of taste or smell; at least five days after being in close contact with someone who has since tested positive for COVID; o Before meeting with a group, especially if that group includes people who are at risk of severe illness or who are not up to date on their vaccinations (keep in mind that you may not know who is at risk either).
It’s also worth noting that you should let your tests come to room temperature before using them, especially if they were delivered in sub-zero or very high temperatures. Although the tests are designed to survive a variety of conditions, they may not work as well if they are cold, the government says. Rapid antigen tests are generally designed to be used in an environment that is between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 30 degrees Celsius), but your tests must come with specific instructions about this. The government recommends letting the unopened package sit inside for at least two hours before opening and using any of the tests inside.
How to do a rapid antigen test
Each test kit comes with instructions on how to use it, and they all involve swabbing the inside of your nose. You should get results in 30 minutes and you won’t have to leave your house. If you do not follow the instructions, the result could be incorrect. For visual learners, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an instructional video and they also have one for people who use American Sign Language.
How to interpret the results of the COVID test
Your test will also tell you how to interpret the results and what to do next, but if you test positive, you most likely have COVID. You should follow the latest guidance from the CDC, which suggests isolating yourself for at least five days, including from people in your home. You may also want to talk to your doctor, and you definitely should if you have a weakened immune system, other health conditions like cancer and diabetes, or an increased risk due to a factor like smoking or obesity, the government says.
[Related: The Postal Service helps keep millions of Americans alive and well]
If the results are negative, the test did not find COVID in your body and you may be at lower risk of spreading the disease. It’s worth noting that these home antigen tests are generally not as accurate as PCR tests, for example, which are processed by laboratories. So if you think you got a false negative, the government suggests retesting in a few days, leaving at least 24 hours between tests.
Again, for visual learners, the CDC has a video on how to interpret results, including individual ones in ASL to understand positive and negative results.
This story has been updated. It was originally published on March 19, 2022.