A COVID-19 at-home rapid test displaying a negative result lays on a flat surface.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know 

  • A new subvariant called XBB.1.5 and holiday gatherings may fuel a COVID-19 winter wave.
  • Testing properly after travel and gatherings is key to reducing the virus’s spread. 
  • The federal government restarted its free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests program, and there are additional ways to get tests for free.  

Experts suggest that a new Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, and the aftermath of holiday gatherings and New Year celebrations may already be contributing to a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and test positivity rates across the country. To slow the spread of COVID-19 this winter, it’s important to get tested after gathering and traveling. Read on to learn more about why you should get tested now and encourage others to do so, how to get tested, and where to access free tests.

Why should I test for COVID-19 after holiday gatherings?

As of December 30, COVID-19 test positivity rates were on the rise nationwide, and experts suggest case numbers and hospitalization rates may increase in the next week, as case reporting is often delayed during the holidays. Meanwhile, the CDC reports that a new Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, was responsible for 40.5 percent of COVID-19 cases in the country in the week ending December 31. Those two factors may fuel the expected winter surge, which is why it’s so important to get tested now, after holiday travel and gatherings. Plus, knowing if you have COVID-19 or not, and taking the necessary precautions, like masking and isolating if you’re infected, can help reduce the spread as we brace for a nationwide COVID-19 wave this winter.  

How do I properly test for COVID-19?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested immediately. Even if you don’t have symptoms, get tested five days after traveling or gathering, especially if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. You can avoid a false negative by taking two rapid tests 48 hours apart if you have symptoms. Take three tests, also 48 hours apart, if you were exposed but have no symptoms. After taking the rapid test, consider reporting your result here to help with accurate case counts. If you tested negative for COVID-19 but still have symptoms like a cough, fever, sore throat, and runny nose, consider taking a flu test at a health care provider’s office. 

How do I get tested for free?

The federal government restarted its free COVID-19 at-home tests program, so every household can get four free tests delivered to their home through COVID.gov/tests. You can also get eight rapid tests every month if you have private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. (You may be asked to pay upfront and submit a claim to be reimbursed for the tests.) If you’re uninsured, there are over 15,000 community-based testing sites across the country offering testing for free or at low cost. Find the nearest one here