How to get free Covid test kits and check test expiration dates

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The third holiday season since the pandemic began is almost here, and around 300 people are still dying from the coronavirus every day, on average, according to NBC News’ tally.

In what was likely his last White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that people shouldn’t underestimate the value of testing.

“When we gather at a family gathering for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holiday as we head into winter, it makes sense that you would want to get tested that day,” said Fauci, who directs the National Institute . of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, but he will step down next month.

But finding low-cost tests and interpreting the results isn’t always simple.

Here’s the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as expert advice on getting tested without paying out-of-pocket, checking when a home test expires, and interpreting a result. negative if you have symptoms or known exposure.

Private insurance and Medicare cover eight home tests per month

Since January, the Biden administration has required private insurers and state health insurance a cover up to eight home tests per month. Individuals with private insurance may order tests at network pharmacies or file claims to be reimbursed for tests purchased at other stores or out-of-network pharmacies. People with Medicare can search online for a list of providers They offer free trials.

PCR laboratory tests they are also fully covered through private insurance and Medicare.

Free government home tests are no longer available

The federal program that distributed up to 16 free home tests to households through the mail ended on september 2 due to lack of funds from Congress.

How to find free testing sites near you

Some sites that provided free rapid or PCR tests earlier in the pandemic have closed, but the Department of Health and Human Services has an online page. research tool to find sites near you that still offer free or low-cost trials. Most are pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, but the site may also direct you to your state’s department of health website, which may offer additional options.

Once the government’s public health emergency declaration expires, testing costs will likely increase

The statement was last renewed in October and could end sometime in 2023. After that, Medicare beneficiaries will most likely have to pay the full cost of home testing, but should still cover the tests of clinical diagnosis. according to KFF, a nonprofit health think tank. For people with private insurance, testing costs will be subject to the details of their plans, but are unlikely to be fully covered.

Rapid tests may expire, but many shelf lives have been extended

Different tests have different shelf lives, but many of the original expiration dates have been extended since the tests were licensed.

In such cases, the manufacturer has provided evidence to the government that the tests give accurate results longer than was known when they were created.

Abbott’s BinaxNOW home test, for example, says it has a 15-month shelf life, but the expiration dates of many batches have been extended from three to six months. Meanwhile, iHealth Labs’ government-distributed tests last for a year, but most of their shelf life has been extended from four to six months. Flowflex home tests have a shelf life of 19 months, with extensions of six months.

To check if the expiration date for your particular test has been revised, click on the appropriate link in the fda list and look up the lot number.

When to assess if you have been exposed or feel sick

If you have symptoms, get tested right away. If you were exposed to someone who tested positive but feels healthy, test after five full days.

fda recommends that people with known exposures who test negative take a second test 48 hours later. If they come back negative, test a third time after another 48 hours.

“We know antigen-based tests, you have to repeat them. They’re not a one-off test,” said Dr. Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor of clinical pathology at the University of Southern California.

If you’re exposed within 30 days of previously testing positive for Covid, you don’t need to get tested unless you develop symptoms, according to the CDC. If it’s been less than 90 days since your last Covid infection, use a rapid test, because PCR results can remain positive for up to 12 weeks.

You can report your home test result to public health agencies at MakeMyTestCount.orga site of the National Institutes of Health.

What to know about the accuracy of home tests

PCR tests are generally more sensitive and accurate than home tests, but results can take at least 24 hours and often several days. Meanwhile, home tests (also known as antigen tests) rarely give false positives, but can give false negatives, even if someone is symptomatic. That’s especially likely in the early days of an infection.

Scientists aren’t sure why, but one theory is that the immune response causes symptoms before the virus has a chance to replicate at detectable levels. That can make people feel tired, sore, or runny before testing positive.

For other people, Covid tests never come back positive even though they feel sick and have been exposed to the virus. Those people may have unrelated infections, or their immune systems may have made quick work of beating the virus before it replicated enough to sign up for a test.

Older or immunocompromised people should still seek PCR testing if they feel sick or have been exposed to Covid and test negative at home, said Dr. Sheldon Campbell, an associate professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California School of Medicine. Yale. That’s because those groups are eligible for treatments like Paxlovid in the days after they test positive.

“You don’t want to wait two days, get a positive result, and realize you should have been on treatment for two days,” he said.

Your test result could be a good indicator of contagion

Campbell said that testing positive on a home test is a good indicator that you are infectious. But Butler-Wu cautioned that it’s still possible to be contagious and test negative at home or test positive and not spread the virus to others.

“At the end of the day, there is no infectious test for Covid. There never has been and there still isn’t,” he said.

However, it is well established that people are most likely to be infectious early in their illnesses. A august study found that 65% of people with covid shed the infectious virus five days after symptoms started, but only 24% are still doing so after a week.

How long is it likely to test positive

If you are mildly ill, the CDC recommends self-isolation for at least five days after your positive test or the onset of symptoms, and then end isolation if your test is negative or symptoms have resolved or are improving. If your symptoms have not improved much or you still have a fever on day five, the agency recommends continuing isolation until you are fever-free for 24 hours without medication.

People with moderate or severe illness, characterized by shortness of breath or hospitalization, should self-isolate until day 10.

“Usually people are positive for about seven days after their symptoms start,” Campbell said. “Some people can last longer, rarely more than two weeks.”

In a small study, only 25% of people with covid tested negative in rapid tests on the sixth day of their illness, but all participants tested negative after two weeks. In A study of college athletes with Covid, meanwhile, 27% still tested positive a week after their first positive tests.

Campbell said scientists are still investigating why some people test positive for more than two weeks.

“People who test positive for antigen more than two weeks somehow don’t have good immunity to the virus,” he said.

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