Earlier this month, the federal government’s COVID-19 website stopped offering shipments of free, at-home COVID tests for Americans.
Shipments were suspended beginning Sept. 2 because additional funding to replenish the supply hasn’t been provided by Congress, the website says.
Since January, Americans had three shipments of four tests each available to them, which means many received 12 at-home test kits. While it might have seemed like a good idea to stockpile, many are now realizing their unused tests are expired.
With updated COVID boosters and the cold-weather season right around the corner, here’s what you need to know about your unused, at-home COVID tests:
Can you use an expired at-home COVID test?
The short answer? No, you shouldn’t.
The FDA doesn’t recommend using an expired at-home COVID test because the parts they are made of can degrade or break down over time. Because of this, an expired test could give you an inaccurate result.
But, before you toss those expired kits, you may be in luck.
Is my COVID test really expired?
The expiration date on your COVID test is accurate and should be adhered to. But, it’s possible that the test’s shelf life has been extended, which means their expiration would be, too.
According to the FDA, COVID-19 test manufacturers perform studies to show how long after manufacturing the test performs as accurately as the day it was manufactured. The shelf-life is how long the test should perform as expected and is measured from the date the test was manufactured. The expiration date — which is what is listed on the box — is the date through which the test is expected to perform as accurately as when manufactured.
Currently, the FDA has approved 22 at-home COVID-19 diagnostics tests — and many of them have been granted extended shelf lifes.
This is because additional testing has been done as more time has passed to determine whether the shelf life is longer than originally thought. You can read more about testing from the FDA here.
If you purchased your tests directly from a manufacturer, you may have received a notice that the expiration dates have been extended.
If you got your tests through other means, such as the free shipment from the government, you can check online to see if your unused tests, the ones collecting dust in your medicine cabinet, are still good to go.
You can see the list of all 22 approved tests here.
How can I check if my COVID test’s expiration has been extended?
To see if the expiration date for your at-home test has been extended, first find your test on FDA’s website here.
- If the expiration date column says that the shelf-life is "extended," there is a link to "updated expiration dates" where you can find a list of the original expiration dates and the new expiration dates. Find the original expiration date on the box label of your test and then look for the new expiration date in the "updated expiration dates" table for your test.
- If the expiration date column does not say the shelf-life is extended, that means the expiration date on the box label of your test is still correct. The table will say "See box label" instead of having a link to updated expiration dates.
Additionally, you could check directly on the website of your test manufacturer, or contact your test’s manufacturer.
Where can I get a COVID test?
If your test really is expired, or maybe you don’t have any left at home, COVID tests are still readily available.
At-home tests are available for sale around the U.S. Check with local retailers and pharmacies near you to see if they have any in stock.
If you have health insurance through an employer or Marketplace, your insurance will pay you back for eight at-home tests each month for each person on your plan. Read more about insurance reimbursement here.
More than 20,000 testing sites are still available nationwide and provide antigen and PCR COVID tests at no cost to both those who are insured and those who are uninsured. You can find a testing site available near you here.
Additionally, if Congress provides additional funding to replenish the stockpile, you can order another round of free at-home tests from COVID.gov/tests.
Take 3 home tests after exposure, FDA says
Earlier this month, the FDA began recommending people repeat testing for COVID at home.
Previously, the FDA had advised people who had been exposed to take two rapid antigen tests over two or three days to rule out infection. But the agency says new studies suggest that protocol can miss too many infections, and could result in people spreading the virus to others, especially if they don’t develop symptoms.
If you were exposed to COVID-19, you’re recommended to take three home tests now instead of two.
The new guidance applies to people without symptoms who think they may have been exposed. People with symptoms can continue using two tests spaced 48 hours apart.
Health officials have repeatedly cautioned that the tests can give false negatives if taken too early.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people without symptoms wait five days after exposure. That’s because it generally takes several days before the antigens reach levels detectable via testing with a nose swab.
New COVID booster
A tweaked version of the COVID booster has been approved by both the FDA and the CDC, and shots are expected to be available after Labor Day.
The shot targets the widely-contagious BA.4 and BA.5 omicron strands ahead of the fall and winter seasons.
The White House is encouraging those who are eligible to get the shot. Pfizer’s tweaked version has been approved for those 12 and up, while Moderna’s will be available for adults.
This story was reported from Detroit.