If the trouble or expense of locating rapid COVID-19 home testing kits is proving to be a hassle, there’s now another option. Starting Wednesday, January 19, the United States Postal Service (USPS) will ship households up to four tests upon request.
The order form, which can be found on the USPS website here, solicits your name and mailing address for kits that are due to begin shipping in late January.
There’s not much fine print to review; shipping is free and no insurance information is required.
At-home rapid tests are generally believed to be less sensitive than PCR-based tests, which are sent to laboratories for review. Rapid tests may trigger a false negative if taken too early or if a person is still asymptomatic. While not the gold standard, the kits are easy to self-administer and can provide results within minutes. (Positive at-home results should be reported to local health authorities to help track community spread.)
It’s still too early to tell whether the USPS system may be overwhelmed or otherwise experience some interruption. Some users reported issues having kits mailed to apartment buildings or multi-unit dwellings, with the page rejecting the order as a duplicate. If this happens, you can try putting your apartment or unit number in the address field of the form.
The mail program, which is estimated to cost $4 billion, places the burden on the USPS, which is seeing upward of 20,000 employees out sick; the agency is setting up temporary work centers to get the test kits prepared. The expectation is that the kits will ship seven to 12 days from the request, so it’s best to order them prior to needing them as a precautionary measure.
If you can't get through or reach your limit, there are other options. Last week, most major insurance carriers began covering the cost of at-home test kits, either at the point of sale or via reimbursement.
The at-home tests are part of a federal plan to offer more resources during the current surge of Omicron, a highly infectious variant. A similar mail program offering N95 masks may be available soon.