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COVID-19 on the Rise: Here’s How to Find Free COVID Testing, Treatments and Vaccines

COVID-19 on the Rise: Here’s How to Find Free COVID Testing, Treatments and Vaccines

As we approach our third winter of COVID-19, news about the virus is mixed. The US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have approved new vaccine booster shots targeting the new omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, but COVID cases and hospitalizations have also started to rise again, particularly in California

Though cases continue to climb, testing for COVID-19 is an easy way to protect those around you if you think you might have the virus. The new booster shots have been approved, but it still might take a few weeks for most people to receive the latest round of the vaccine. 

Read more: Your Expired COVID Test Kits Might Still Be Good. Here’s How to Find Out

The free COVID-19 test program that was offered through the US Postal Service is no longer available. However, if you need or want to test for free, you still have a few options. Read on to find out how to find a free COVID-19 testing location. For more, here’s what to know about long COVID, and here’s how to know if it’s COVID, allergies or something else.

What are my free COVID-19 testing options? 

There are three main avenues to find free COVID-19 testing locations across the US: HRSA health centers, Test to Treat locations and ICATT testing sites. These options function similarly, but we’ll break down the specific steps you need to take to find your nearest free testing location.

HRSA health centers offer free COVID-19 testing

map of HRSA health center locations for COVID testing near Detroit

HRSA health centers offer free COVID-19 testing. 

HRSA/Screenshot by CNET

The Health Resources and Services Administration funds health centers across the US. At these HRSA health centers, you will be able to receive free COVID-19 testing. You can use HRSA’s locator tool to find a center near you.

First, select the language you would like to receive your results in. Then simply enter the location you wish to search into the box labeled Location. The locator also allows you to widen your search radius, so you can see all the options your area has to offer. 

Once you’ve found a center that works for you, click through to that particular location’s website and follow their specific instructions for obtaining a free COVID-19 test. 

Test to Treat locations have COVID testing and medicine

map of Test to Treat locations for COVID testing near Atlanta

The Test to Treat program makes COVID testing and therapeutics more accessible. 

HHS/Screenshot by CNET

Test to Treat is a federally funded health care initiative that provides more accessible COVID-19 care. This option differs from the others in this article as you can use the Test to Treat centers to receive both COVID testing and treatment for infections. Like the other COVID-19 free testing options,Test to Treat has a locator tool that you can use to find an eligible Test to Treat Center near you. 

The Test to Treat center locator works like the other COVID testing search tools. Enter your location into the search bar and the tool will display Test to Treat locations in your area. A sliding bar lets you resize the search radius to capture all of the Test to Treat centers within your area. 

Within the Test to Treat locator results, you’ll be able to see each location’s address, which COVID-19 therapeutics they offer and other special instructions you might need to know to get tested. 

Increasing Community Access to Testing provides COVID testing for the uninsured

a map showing ICATT COVID testing locations near Chicago

ICATT offers free testing to uninsured patients who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who have recently been exposed.

CDC/Screenshot by CNET

Increasing Community Access to Testing, or ICATT, is another free testing program that you can use if you need access to free COVID-19 testing. However, ICATT works a bit differently than the other programs on this list. 

ICATT is specifically designed for uninsured patients who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. However, anyone can get an ICATT test at one of the program’s locations, regardless of insurance status. If you are uninsured and you wish to be tested at an ICATT eligible site, you will not need to pay for your test. If you are insured, you might need to pay a fee. 

The ICATT locator tool works just like the other locator tools for free COVID testing — input your address or your zip code to find ICATT locations near you. There is a search radius adjuster in this locator to tweak your searches to capture the entire area that you want to search. 

Once you’ve found a location you would like to test at, follow your testing location’s steps for scheduling your appointment to get tested. 

Which types of COVID-19 tests are available for free?

While each individual testing center will have different tests available, there are two main types of COVID tests that will be available — molecular PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests or RATs (rapid antigen tests). PCR and antigen tests are administered in the same way so there’s no avoiding the swab up the nose. However, the PCR is more accurate than the rapid antigen test and requires a laboratory to analyze the results.

The CDC calls the PCR “the gold standard for COVID-19 tests.” These tests are usually administered at a doctor’s office or one of the testing locations mentioned above. PCR tests take a little longer than antigen tests — you may need to wait a day or two to get your results.

Rapid antigen tests are the type usually found in home testing kits. These tests don’t need to be sent to a lab and will usually return results in about 15 minutes. However, since they are less accurate than PCR tests, the CDC advises that “a single negative antigen test cannot rule out infection.” 

To rule out a COVID-19 infection with more certainty, the FDA recommends two negative antigen tests for symptomatic testers and three negative antigen tests for asymptomatic testers, with each test being performed 48 hours apart. 

How can I get free COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots?

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are an important protection against contracting or getting seriously ill from the virus. However, since the COVID-19 public health emergency ended back in May, vaccines are no longer free for uninsured Americans. Since the CDC recently recommended updated COVID-19 booster shots for everyone 6 months or older, you might be wondering how to find free COVID-19 vaccines. 

If you’re looking for free COVID-19 vaccines and don’t have insurance,- you’re in luck. The HHS’ Bridge Access Program, which provides free vaccines to those who are uninsured, launched last week. 

According to the CDC, free vaccines will be available at local health departments and HRSA Centers. CDC also has partnered with “more than 20,000 retail pharmacy locations nationwide” to provide free vaccines by modifying the existing ICATT program. 

It’s important to note that the Bridge Access Program will end in December of 2024, but until then, you’ll be able to access free COVID-19 testing. 

For more, here’s how to find out if your expired COVID-19 tests are still good and how to know if you have COVID-19, allergies, or another upper respiratory infection