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News / Health / Health Wire

Free at-home COVID tests are back. Here’s how to order

By Vonnai Phair, The Seattle Times
Published: September 26, 2023, 7:47am

Starting Monday, Washingtonians can once again order free at-home COVID-19 tests to be delivered straight to their homes.

The Biden administration announced last week that it is providing $600 million in funding to produce the new tests and restarting a website allowing Americans to order up to four tests per household.

Orders can be placed at COVIDTests.gov, and the no-cost tests will be delivered for free by the United States Postal Service starting Oct. 2, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The tests are designed to detect COVID variants currently circulating, and are intended for use by the end of the year, the department said.

COVID levels remain fairly low in Washington, although the state’s infection and hospitalization rates have been slowly increasing since July, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist.

As of late August, an average of about 3.4 Washingtonians were being hospitalized per 100,000 people, compared to fewer than 2 per 100,000 in late June and early July. The state’s infection rate, likely an undercount due to the rise in home testing, was about 45.4 per 100,000 in late August — a jump from fewer than 17 per 100,000 in early July.

In comparison, about 28 people per 100,000 were being hospitalized with COVID during the state’s omicron wave in January 2022. During the height of the surge, more than 1,800 people per 100,000 were testing positive for the virus on any given day.

The newest COVID-19 vaccine — the first to be rolled out after the end of the national public health emergency — is also on its way to Washington. The state Department of Health expected the first doses to arrive in Washington last week, but providers might not receive shipments until early October.

The state also has a new data dashboard to simultaneously track three respiratory viruses this year.

The interactive online tool, modeled after the COVID data dashboard the state maintained for the last three years, provides a summary of ongoing disease activity, hospital admissions, emergency department visits and occupied ICU beds for COVID, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, in addition to other health metrics.