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Health experts share advice on using at-home COVID-19 tests

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Posted at 6:22 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 06:36:56-05

TAMPA, Fla. — On Wednesday, the Biden administration officially launched a website for people to get free at-home COVID-19 tests, declaring every home in the country is eligible to order four free at-home tests.

Florida health experts are sharing what people need to know on when and how you should use them to get the most accurate result.

Tracie Wiechmann successfully was able to place an order for these tests on Tuesday during the website’s soft launch.

“I filled in those fields, and it was less than a minute and clicked submit, and I thought, surely there’s going to be more to this, you know? But then it said success, and I got a confirmation email that came from USPS,” said Wiechmann.

When on the government’s official site, you’ll click “Order Free At-Home Tests,” which will direct you to a USPS page to fill out your information. Several people who filled out the form said it was a simple process.

“I believe that it’s really important that, especially people who don’t have financial means to just go and buy a test, that they have access to this as well,” said Wiechmann. “Being able to get those delivered to our homes free of charge is huge in trying to tamp this whole thing down and to mitigate the effect it’s having on our community.”

The tests available for order are rapid antigen at-home tests, not PCR, and the site says orders will usually ship in seven to 12 days.

Dr. Jackie Cawley, BayCare Health System’s VP for Population Health and Chief Medical Officer for Ambulatory Care, explained when you should use the tests when you receive them.

“If you have a known exposure to COVID, test yourself in about three to five days as the virus particles have a chance to increase in your body. If you’re having symptoms and you’re concerned you might have COVID, another good time for you to check,” said Cawley. “If the test is negative in either one of those scenarios, checking the next day or so is a good idea because a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not contagious. It’s just not picking it up at that particular time.”

The quality of the sample is also critical. Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a Distinguished USF Health professor, shared how to take the test in order to ensure that it’s the most accurate it can be.

“Probably the most the most important thing with the tests is making sure you get a really good sample, and that means really getting that swab that comes with the test really far up each one of your nostrils and rotating it around a goodly amount,” said Unnasch.

Dr. Unnasch explained if you just touch the edge of the nostril for a short amount of time on each side, that might not give you a good sample.

With the recent high demand for COVID-19 tests across the country, some people explain at some point, you may want a test saved at home for a rainy day.

“Our tax dollars provided this for us. Go ahead and get them sent to you and just put them on the shelf somewhere for when you need them,” said Wiechmann. “It doesn’t take much of your time at all, and then you’ll be glad that you did.”

This story was originally reported by Mary O'Connell with our sister station WFTS.