We’re nearing two years since we first grasped the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the brief moment this summer when it felt like we were nearly back to normal, the Omicron variant is surging, and we’re finally getting free at-home tests. As of this week, every household in the United States can request four free tests—including US territories and military addresses. The process is simple, but it’s not without glitches.
If you need a test right now, we have a guide to finding the best at-home tests and have outlined the process of ordering and taking tests below. Also, see our guides to the best N95 masks and other reusable masks we like. You can follow the rest of our Coronavirus coverage here
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Here’s How To Order Your Tests
Head to CovidTests.gov. On the front page, you should see “Order Free At-Home Tests” in a blue bubble. Clicking that redirects you to the United States Postal Service site, where you’ll fill out your name and address. Include your email address so you can get shipping notifications. Once you’ve filled in your address, click the green “Check Out Now” button to the right. Don’t worry, it’s completely free, including shipping. Only one person per household should place a request.
If you’d rather place an order by phone or you know someone who doesn’t have access to the internet, like an elderly relative, you can call the helpline at 1-800-232-0233. Be warned that you will probably be on hold for a while. Don’t call the USPS, as no one you speak to will be able to place orders on your behalf.
The tests are taking an estimated seven to 12 days to ship, so we recommend ordering them now and keeping them on hand until you need one. There’s no guarantee as to what brand you’ll be getting, and you can’t choose, but the site does say these are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests.
You should take a test as soon as you start to notice symptoms or within five days of exposure, according to the CDC. If you’re asymptomatic and your first test is negative, take another test based on the manufacturer’s instructions. This is usually within two to three days of the first test—most tests come with two tests for this reason. If your test is positive, take another test to verify it and quarantine for five days.
Do You Need a Test Right Now?
If you need a test ASAP, we have a guide on how to find them and more information about accuracy. Rapid tests usually show results in about 15 minutes, but they’re only about 85 percent accurate.
The Tests We Recommend (see our guide for more retailers). Preliminary results show that the two starred tests can detect the new Omicron variant:
Common Problems When Using the Site
Even though the government had two years to figure out this plan, it is not without bugs. Hopefully, you’ll be able to complete your request in minutes. But here are a few common problems we’ve seen.
Do you live in an apartment or a live-work space?
Apartment dwellers may find that their multi-unit building has been classified as a single house. If anyone in the entire building has placed an order for tests, the system thinks they’re requesting more than the allotted four per household.
The USPS addresses this issue by asking anyone who has experienced it to file a service request here. Representative Jerry Nadler of Manhattan has also tweeted about the issue. Anecdotally, Nadler tweeted that some people have been able to resolve the issue by making sure everything is correct using the USPS’s zip code search. You can also try entering your apartment’s unit number in the same box as your address instead of the Apt / Suite / Other box. However, several members of the WIRED staff were unable to request tests using any of these methods.