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How to Get Free COVID Tests in the Mail — Again

Beginning Nov. 20, each household can order another round of free tests from the government


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Just in time for winter virus season, the U.S. government is once again shipping free at-home COVID-19 tests to American households through the U.S. mail.

Each household can order four free tests on the website covidtests.gov or by calling 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489). If you skipped out on ordering a round of tests earlier this fall, you can now place a double order for eight free tests.

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The news comes at the start of the holiday season, when more people will be traveling and spending time indoors with others. It also comes amid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, which serves as a reminder that the virus is still with us. More than 16,200 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Testing is especially important for older adults

Are Your Tests Expired?

Has it been a while since you tapped into your supply of COVID-19 tests? You’ll want to check their expiration dates.

You can find the expiration date printed on the outer box or package. Some of these dates, however, have been extended, and you can find the extended expiration dates listed on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Experts say rapid, easy-to-use tests are key to avoiding a wave of illness this winter. For one thing, testing can help cut down on virus transmission. “We know how to avoid spreading [COVID-19] to people,” David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center, said in a news briefing this fall. “You still want to avoid being in public and being around other people so that they don’t get it.”

The CDC recommends isolating from others for at least five days if you have COVID-19.

A positive test is also the first step to accessing treatments, like Paxlovid, that can prevent a mild infection from turning severe. And, says William Schaffner, M.D., of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, “the sooner you initiate the treatment, the greater the benefit to you.”

Older adults are among those at highest risk for a serious case of COVID-19. Hospital admission rates for people 65 and older continue to tower over those for younger age groups, federal data shows, and death rates for those age 75-plus remain the highest.

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From the beginning of 2022 through the spring of 2023, the federal government distributed more than 755 million free COVID-19 tests to more than two-thirds of American households. In addition, Medicare covered over-the-counter tests for enrollees, as did many private insurance plans. Those benefits expired, however, with the end of the public health emergency in May, forcing many who have since wanted COVID tests to pay for them out of pocket.  

Find COVID-19 Vaccines in Your State

AARP's 53 state and territory COVID-19 vaccine guides can help you find vaccines near you and provide the latest answers to common questions about costs, eligibility and availability.

At-home COVID tests cost around $10 each, or about $20 for a pack of two. The government still offers free testing for people without insurance; you can find testing locations on the CDC’s website.

Along with another batch of free tests, Americans also have access to new COVID-19 vaccines that better target the latest versions of the coronavirus. The vaccines, approved Sept. 11, are available in many doctor’s offices and pharmacies throughout the country.

For the first time, the shots are not universally covered by the federal government. However, they will remain free for many people with Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance plans. A bridge program, launched by the CDC, will make the vaccines free for the uninsured and underinsured. You can find vaccine locations at vaccines.gov.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Sept. 21. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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