You should take a test as soon as you start to notice symptoms or within five days of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 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 per box 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, please check guide to 12 Good Rapid At-Home Covid-19 Tests and Where to Find Them. It also has more information about accuracy. Rapid tests usually show results in about 15 minutes, and they’re about 85 percent accurate.
The Tests We Recommend (see our guide for more retailers). Preliminary results show that the starred tests can detect the 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?
During the first round, many apartment dwellers found themselves unable to request tests because their multi-unit building was classified as a single residence. If anyone in the entire building placed an order for tests, the system thought they were requesting more than the allotted number per household.
This should be resolved, but if you find this happening again, file a service request here. US Representative Jerry Nadler of New York has 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.
The same issue happened for those who reside in a live-work building, which is common in the San Francisco Bay Area. The system sees these addresses as businesses and won’t ship tests there. You’ll also need to file a service request.
Do you have more than eight people in your house?
If you’ve used all your tests or you just have a bigger family, you’re out of luck when it comes to a free at-home kit. You can purchase more if you need them.
Do you not speak English, Spanish, or Chinese?
The website has three language options right now, English, Spanish, and Chinese. It’s not clear whether the helpline listed above (1-800-232-0233) will be able to help people who don’t speak one of those.
Are you homeless?
The site states that these tests are sent to valid residential addresses and residential PO boxes only. One of the FAQs asks if tests can be picked up at another location or held at the USPS, and the answer is, unfortunately, no. If you’re homeless, reach out to your local health social service agency to find a free test.
What About Free Masks?
President Biden stated that 400 million free N95 masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers. Some WIRED staff found a few at their local Walgreens and CVS locations, but not everyone. If you can’t find any for free, we have a few guides for face mask recommendations that should help keep you protected.
If you’ve consistently followed the CDC’s recommendations, you know they have changed several times over the course of the pandemic. N95s are the best bet to keep you and those around you safe—we have more on the types of masks and their effectiveness in the N95 guide—but, as the CDC says, any mask is better than no mask.
Vaccinations and Boosters
Being vaccinated won’t stop you from getting Covid-19, but it could alleviate the worst and most dangerous symptoms. We recommend getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, and if you have, get a booster shot. Vaccines.gov should help you find somewhere near you with vaccines available—a search of my zip code showed 50 places within six miles.