Every American household can now order four additional free Covid tests, which will be sent out by the federal government starting the week of November 27.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced a new round of test shipments Monday as the holiday season begins — a time when public health experts generally expect an increase in cases of Covid, flu , colds and respiratory syncytial virus.
As with the previous five rounds of government-issued Covid tests, orders can be placed online at Covid.gov. People who did not take advantage of the last offer in September can still order the four rapid antigen tests then available, for a total of eight tests. The only information required is a name and home address – no health insurance information is necessary.
The ordering page warns that while tests may arrive with past expiration dates, the Food and Drug Administration has extended the dates of most approved tests. Users can check the real expiration dates of their Covid tests on the FDA’s regularly updated list.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid hospitalizations and deaths both increased by about 9% in the week ending Nov. 11 — the most recent data publicly available. The test positivity rate remained stable, with just over 8% of PCR tests proving positive. Overall, Covid hospitalizations and deaths remain low for this time of year compared to previous years.
Why testing for Covid is still useful
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said people don’t need to get tested with the same rigor as at the height of the pandemic. But for groups vulnerable to severe illness – those who are immunocompromised, have underlying health conditions or are aged 50 and over – identifying a Covid case is a crucial step in getting treatment.
“There is a benefit to testing to get antiviral treatment if you are a high-risk person,” Adalja said.
Testing is also beneficial for protecting loved ones, Adalja said: “The other way people use it is, ‘I’m going to be around a lot of high-risk people, and I just want to make sure I’m not contagious. »
A Covid test can also help distinguish an infection from other respiratory viruses, Adalja added – a task that has become more difficult as Covid’s most distinctive symptoms, like loss of taste and smell, have become less omnipresent. As with many other illnesses, a sore throat and congestion are common features of Covid.
Seasonal increases in the spread of influenza and RSV have already been detected, according to the CDC.
“If you’re sick with something, you have a fever, a cough, whatever it is, and you take a Covid test and it’s positive, you have your answer,” Adalja said. “And then you can take the necessary isolation measures or get a prescription for Paxlovid if that’s something you qualify for.”
Still, he noted, people should make testing decisions based on their individual vulnerability to Covid, because there is no longer a “one-size-fits-all recommendation.”
“Many people are used to risk and recognize Covid as an endemic disease. So they don’t necessarily see it differently from other respiratory viruses,” Adalja said.
What to do if you test positive for Covid
Home tests will show this double line only when there is “enough virus to trigger a positive result,” Adalja said. So if someone feels sick but their test is negative, he advises waiting a few days and then retesting. People at high risk should consider taking a “more formal test,” Adalja added: a PCR test administered at a healthcare facility.
If you test positive, CDC guidelines suggest that most people should self-isolate for five days, whether or not they develop symptoms. If symptoms appear, the day they begin counts as day zero, even if that means restarting the clock after a previous positive test.
Isolation may end after the fifth day if symptoms improve and you have no fever for 24 hours without using medication. If not, or if your Covid infection led to shortness of breath or a trip to the hospital, the CDC recommends 10 days of isolation.
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