The U.S. government, partnering with the postal service, is once again sending free COVID-19 rapid tests as it prepares for a possible rise in cases over Christmas and winter holidays. 

At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration has extended the shelf life of COVID-19 tests. Check the new expiration dates online before throwing your test kit away.

El Paso has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases since October, though an undercount is expected as people testing at home are less likely to report their results. The city reported five new deaths and 2,366 new cases last week, according to the city’s Dec. 12 report.

The U.S. Postal Service’s rapid test delivery program began in January after a surge of COVID-19 cases, but was suspended Sept. 2 because of lack of funding. The Biden administration was also concerned that high demand would deplete its stockpile of test kits before winter.

In addition to the Postal Service program, health insurance plans including Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP cover free at-home test kits.

A COVID-19 rapid antigen test shows a positive result. (Image via JJonahJackelope/ Creative Commons)

Respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, flu and RSV are more common in the winter when people are gathering indoors more and viruses tend to thrive in colder temperatures. Last winter COVID-19 cases soared to a new peak in El Paso when the highly contagious omicron and delta variants were spreading simultaneously.

Here are three ways to get a free COVID-19 test:

Order at-home COVID-19 tests online

Every U.S. household is eligible to order a free kit that contains four, at-home COVID-⁠19 tests. Enter your name and address at covid.gov/tests to place an order. Orders will ship for free starting the week of December 19.

The Spanish language form is available here. If you need help ordering a test, call 1-800-232-0233 or 1-888-720-7489.

Health insurance covers at-home COVID-19 tests

You’re covered for eight free COVID-19 tests each month if you have health insurance – through your employer, through the Affordable Care Act, or Medicare/CHIP/Medicaid. That could be, for example, four kits containing two tests each.

You can either use a pharmacy or store that’s in-network and get charged $0, or purchase a test and then submit a claim to your insurance plan for reimbursement. Check with your health insurance plan or pharmacy to find out what’s in-network.

Other free COVID-19 testing around El Paso

The city of El Paso offers free COVID-19 testing without an appointment. Self-test kiosks are available at locations including transit centers and the University of Texas at El Paso campus. Most are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Go to epstrong.org/testing for more details.

People six months and older can also get tested by a health care professional at one of the city’s three community clinics, open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Patients should park in the designated parking area for testing and call the number on the parking spaces sign. Find the clinics at:

  • 7380 Remcon Circle
  • 9566 Railroad Drive
  • 9341 Alameda Ave.

People can also schedule an appointment at their neighborhood pharmacy. CVS, Walgreens and Walmart offer testing at no cost. Check your pharmacy’s website for age eligibility.

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a health reporter at El Paso Matters and Report for America corp member. She previously covered food and environment at The Arizona Republic. You can follow her on social...