Using a COVID-19 Self-Test

Testing yourself with a COVID-19 self-test (also referred to as home test or over-the-counter (OTC) test) is one of many things you can do, along with getting vaccinated, staying home when you are sick, and washing your hands frequently, to protect you and others and reduce the chances of spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • You can take a self-test at home or anywhere. They are easy to use and give you rapid results.
  • You can use self-tests, whether or not you are vaccinated, and whether or not you have symptoms.
  • Self-tests may also be called at-home tests, and/or Over The Counter (OTC) tests.
  • Make sure to follow all the instructions for performing the test.
  • A positive self-test result means that the test detected the virus and you very likely have a COVID-19 infection. Learn more about what to do after you test positive.
  • A negative self-test result means that the test did not detect the virus and you may not have a COVID-19 infection, but it does not guarantee you do not have COVID-19. Repeating the test within a few days, with at least 24 hours between tests, or obtaining a molecular or PCR test, will increase the confidence that you are not infected.

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Where can I find a self-test, and are they free?

Self-tests are available online and at most pharmacies. The state, and many municipalities, have provided tests at no cost through a range of settings, including schools, shelters, Family Resource Centers, and many others.

As of April 4 2022, Medicare enrollees can now obtain up to eight self-tests a month at certain pharmacy chains and providers, free of cost. Those in Medicare Advantage plans may need to show their Medicare cards to receive the tests. Participating chains include Rite Aid, Wegmans, Price Chopper, Big Y, Hannaford, Stop and Shop, Albertsons, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS. Enrollees can also call 1-800-MEDICARE to find locations. More information is available on the Center for Medicare website.

All Masshealth Members can also obtain up to 8 self-tests per month free of cost. MassHealth Members must obtain these tests at a pharmacy, including online pharmacy orders. Members do not need to pay up front out-of-pocket, MassHealth will pay the pharmacy directly. Reimbursement may not be available to members if they pay for tests out-of-pocket. More information is available on MassHealth's information page.

All individuals covered by private insurance can also obtain up to 8 self-tests and may either be able to file for reimbursement from their insurer (which may require receipts or other documentation) and/or provide certain documentation (for example, prescription benefits card) at the point of sale to receive the tests for free. Details differ from insurer to insurer – please reach out to your plan for more details about how to obtain self-tests free of cost. More information is available on the Center for Medicaid website.

More information about free and low-cost testing sites can be found on the community based testing website.

When should I consider using a self test?

Self-tests may be used if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed or potentially exposed to an individual with COVID-19.

Even if you don’t have symptoms and have not been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, using a self-test before gathering indoors with others can help you know if you are likely to spread the virus that causes COVID-19. This is especially important before gathering with unvaccinated children or adults, older individuals, those who are immunocompromised, or individuals at risk of severe disease.

My test was positive, what should I do now?

If you are at risk for severe disease from COVID-19 infection, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately to talk about any treatments you may need.

People over age 65 or those with certain medical conditions are more likely to get seriously ill and require hospitalization, especially if they are unvaccinated. Please visit the CDC website to find out if you have any medical conditions that put you at greater risk for severe disease. If you have questions or are unsure about your risk, you should contact your healthcare provider.  If you have or develop severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, you should call 911.

You will need to stay home and isolate yourself from others for 10 days until you are no longer able to spread the disease to others.

Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed. You can begin spreading COVID-19 starting 2 days before you have any symptoms or test positive. By telling your close contacts they may have been exposed, you are helping to protect everyone.

My test was negative, what does that mean?

A negative test result means the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found, and you may have a lower risk of spreading the disease to others. If you took the test while you had symptoms and followed all instructions carefully, a negative result means your current illness is probably not COVID-19, though it does not guarantee you do not have a COVID-19 infection.

It is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19. This is called a false negative. You could also test negative if the specimen was collected too early in your infection. In this case, you could test positive later during your illness.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you know you were exposed to someone else with COVID-19 or if COVID-19 is common in your community, consider repeat testing with a self-test in a day or two.

How often should I repeat my self-test?

Some self-tests are designed to be repeated. Repeated (sometimes called serial) self-testing is when a person tests themselves multiple times for COVID-19, or on a routine basis, such as every few days. By testing more frequently, you might detect the virus that causes COVID-19 more quickly and could reduce the spread of infection. Some self-tests include instructions for performing repeat testing, including the number of days between tests. No matter which test you are taking, please read and follow the instructions carefully.

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