If you’ve been searching in vain for an at-home COVID-19 test, it’s a good idea to check with your local library: This week, many libraries around the country are giving away free at-home coronavirus tests.
Cases are spiking across the country thanks to the rapidly spreading omicron variant. With the Christmas holiday right around the corner, demand for tests has skyrocketed, causing hours-long lines at in-person testing locations in some cities and shortages at major retailers and pharmacies.
Some tests are available for purchase online at reasonable prices, but availability changes from day to day (or even hour to hour) and shipping times vary widely.
But there might be another option if you need a test right away: Some states and cities have stockpiles of at-home tests, and they are distributing them for free to the public at local libraries and community centers.
In Boston, 14 public library branches and a number of youth and family centers have been giving out free rapid tests this week. Washington, D.C. has also distributed free tests (with a multi-day turnaround for results) at libraries, and is slated to begin handing out rapid tests at eight libraries on Wednesday. More than three dozen library systems in Virginia are participating in a program to distribute free tests. The public library in Tempe, Arizona also distributed tests this week, as did the Cleveland Public Library — just to name a few examples.
Remember: demand for tests is very high across the board, and libraries, like anywhere else, might exhaust their supply earlier than expected (libraries in Baltimore reportedly ran out within minutes on Tuesday). So it’s a good idea to call ahead to check if your local branch has tests available. Some states, cities and counties have also launched programs to mail at-home rapid tests straight to your door for free.
While tests likely won’t get any easier to find before the holidays, there is some hope for the new year. This week, the White House announced a plan to distribute 500 million free at-home COVID-19 tests to Americans starting in January.
The Biden administration is setting up a website where you can request testing kits, but hasn’t yet said exactly when that program will launch. It also plans to require health insurance companies to reimburse customers for costs associated with rapid tests, but that rule is not yet in effect and probably will not apply retroactively to tests that have already been purchased.