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Ordering at-home COVID tests: What you need to know

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 8:46 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - These days at home COVID-19 tests can be hard to come by. The shelves at most pharmacies are bare and people are standing in line trying to get lab tests.

The Biden administration bought one billion tests to give out to Americans for free. As of today, half a billion tests are available for order at covidtests.gov. These kits are at-home antigen tests and should be ordered in advance. The website says kits will ship between seven and twelve days after being ordered. Dr. Richard Bryan, Chief Medical Officer at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, says people should not wait to place their order.

“People should really have those tests on hand. They should not wait to order the tests until they’re sick. They should have them available,” Dr. Bryan said.

Dr. Bryan says in many cases, these at-home tests can take the place of lab-based PCR tests.

“If you test positive on the home antigen test, you do not need a PCR,” Dr. Bryan said. “You need to assume at that point that you have a COVID infection and treat it appropriately.”

The site covidtests.gov site is available in several different languages. Once you click ‘order free at home tests’ you’re taken to a USPS website. The questions from there are relatively simple. First and last name, and a shipping address are required. The addition of an email address for shipping updates is optional.

Users are limited to one order for each residential address. Each order is free and includes four test kits.

Dr. Bryan says there are three reasons you might want to use at home tests. If you have COVID-19 symptoms or if you’ve been exposed to someone with the virus, you should use the test.

“Then I think the third reason why you may want to consider this is that if you’re going to a moderate sized gathering to have everybody at that gathering test before they get together,” Dr. Bryan said.

Many people might be tempted to stockpile these tests, but keep in mind that they do have a limited shelf life.

“All these home antigen tests do have an expiration date,” Dr. Bryan said. “I think they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. That should be on the packaging and pay attention to that.”

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