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What you need to know about the government's free at-home COVID tests

The website is live and half a billion are ready to be sent out.

ATLANTA — Over the last few weeks, COVID-19 tests have been hard to come by, but now people can place an order through the federal government to have at-home tests delivered by mail.

COVIDtests.gov is now live and the first tests are expected to be sent by USPS over the next 12 days, according to the website. With that timeline, tests will start arriving on doorsteps the first week of February.

"It's been almost impossible to get the tests when you need them," 11Alive medical expert Dr. Sujatha Reddy said, reaffirming what many have already experienced – as the omicron variant rapidly spread, testing has become increasingly difficult.

With the federal government making at-home tests more available, the rollout is expected to send half a billion kits to homes.

It is as easy as logging onto the website and entering your address. In a couple of weeks, a package shows up at your house.

There could be some confusion about how the process works. 

Here are some commonly asked questions:

How often can I place an order?

As of now, it's a one-time deal. Each address will get one kit with four tests inside, regardless of how many people live at your home

 If I have a big family, how many tests can I get?

If there's a situation with multiple families at one residence, they are instructed to file a service request here or contact the USPS help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS to help address the issue.

For now, each address submitted will get four tests. Each address can only be submitted once.

How long should you wait before taking these at-home tests?

Reddy said the omicron incubation time is shorter so once symptoms start it's a good time to test.

RELATED: COVID rapid tests may not detect all variants. Here's why

If one person has symptoms should you test the whole family? 

Reddy said you don't need to go that far at first.

"If you have someone who has symptoms in a household or was at an event and a person showed up positive it makes sense to test that person," Reddy said.

Then if they're negative, wait and test them again and only if they're positive should you test the whole family, he advised.

How effective are these at-home tests?

Reddy said they aren't as sensitive or as accurate as a PCR test which is still the gold standard, so while a positive test means you definitely have COVID, a negative test could go either way. 

"With an at-home test you could have a false negative," Reddy explained.

She said if you test negative but have symptoms to wait a couple of days and test again. 

Do the tests expire?

Yes, so if you stash them away make sure to check their expiration date before conducting the test.

Reddy said testing is one way to prevent the spreading the coronavirus. However, the virus' latest variant could have a silver lining, according to the doctor. 

She said the omicron variant's high level of contagion could be what we've been waiting for since this pandemic began especially with so many people now having natural immunity or the vaccine or both.

"I am really hopeful that maybe this is the beginning of the end because we may achieve that elusive herd immunity," she said. "If everybody has antibodies this virus may kill itself or die out."

For more information on coronavirus cases in Georgia, click here.







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