Access-to-COVID-19-Tests-5-24-23 COVID-19 Tests Questions & Answers: Access to Testing Following the End of the Federal Public Health Emergency

​​​This Guidance is no longer in effect and is for historical purposes only.

COVID-19 Tests Questions & Answers: Access to Testing Following the End of the Federal Public Health Emergency

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Backgrou​nd

The COVID-19 State of Emergency (SoE) has ended in California, and the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) ended nationally on May 11, 2023. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommends that California Local Health Jurisdictions (LHJs):

  • Advise individuals in their jurisdictions to keep at least four unexpired tests on hand per household member.
  • Maintain a local stockpile of over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 testing supplies that could last at least eight weeks (if space allows) to support outbreak response for the uninsured and underinsured.
  • Monitor expiration dates and rotate test stockpiles to ensure that tests work correctly. 

CDPH currently anticipates having available OTC tests to support LHJs, community organizations, and schools through the summer of 2023. LHJs can request tests from CDPH for uninsured and underinsured populations to help support their stockpiles through the summer of 2023 as well. 

CDPH highly recommends prioritizing local supplies for uninsured or underinsured people. If local resources are limited, further prioritize these resources in response to outbreaks in high-risk settings.

For more information on the end of the SoE and the federal PHE for COVID-19, see the California Health and Human Services COVID-19 website and the Department of Managed Health Care COVID-19 Factsheet (PDF).

Questions & Answers

Where can I access free at home self-tests to find out if I am infected? 

If you think you might be infected with COVID-19, either because you've been exposed or because you have symptoms, you should take a COVID-19 test.

  • Four free at-home tests per household mailed by the U.S. government continue to be available at this time (limited to one order per address). Order through the U.S Postal Service at the COVID.gov website. 
  • Free tests can also be obtained through some community organizations serving uninsured or underinsured people. See also the CDC No-Cost Testing Locator.
  • Additional possible places to get free test kits include schools, food pantries, libraries, faith-based organizations, federally qualified health centers, community centers, local pharmacies, and needle exchange programs.  
  • California state laws require health plans to continue covering COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatments from any licensed provider (in- or out-of-network) with no prior authorization or enrollee cost sharing through November 11, 2023.

Free tests are available at pharmacies from May 12, 2023 through November 11, 2023.

How can I be prepared in case I am exposed to or develop symptoms of COVID-19?

All families and households should keep at least four unexpired* COVID-19 rapid tests on hand for each household member. If you have to, you can use an expired test until you can get new ones, as long as the control line is working. See your test kit instructions for details about the control line. In addition, each household should keep  well-fit​​ting face masks  on hand to wear if exposed or if symptoms develop.   

*Note: Most COVID-19 rapid tests have extended expiration dates that go beyond the dates on the boxes. For more information, visit the FDA webpage.

Will my health insurance continue to cover the costs of my rapid tests when the federal public health emergency has ended?

​California law requires health plans and insurers reimburse their members for the costs of up to eight at-home COVID tests every month through November 11, 2023. After November 11, 2023, enrollees can continue to access COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatment with no prior authorization or cost sharing when they access these services through their health plan's network. Health plan enrollees can be charged cost-sharing only if these services are provided out-of-network after November 11, 2023.

P​eople with traditional Medicare can continue to receive COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests with no cost-sharing when the test is ordered by a physician or other healthcare provider and performed by a laboratory. People enrolled in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can continue to receive COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests when the test is covered by Medicare but their cost-sharing may change when the federal PHE ends. By law, Medicare does not generally cover OTC services and tests. Current access to free OTC COVID-19 tests will end with the PHE. However, some Medicare Advantage plans may continue to provide coverage as a supplemental benefit.  

Some of the rapid tests I have are past the expiration date shown on their boxes. Can I still use them? 

Most rapid tests have updated expiration dates that are later than the dates listed on their boxes. Replace your tests with fresh ones as the revised expiration dates approach. If you have to, you can use an expired test as long as the control line is working. See your test kit instructions for details about the control line.

*Note: Most COVID-19 rapid tests have extended expiration dates that go beyond the dates on the boxes. For more information, visit the FDA webpage

If I don't have a home test, where can I get tested if my previous community site is now closed?

  • If you have health insurance, contact your insurer for details on where you can get tested or how to get home tests.
  • If you do not have health insurance, go to No-Cost COVID-19 Testing (cdc.gov) to find local pharmacies where you can get tested for free. 
  • Your health care provider can also order a test for you. ​

If I have tests at home, should I go to a healthcare provider for testing?​

If you have OTC tests at home, it is not necessary to go to a health care provider for testing. Individuals who are experiencing severe symptoms, are getting worse, or who do not seem to be recovering after four or five days should contact their healthcare provider for evaluation.

I was exposed to COVID-19 but don't feel sick. What should I do?

For an exposure to someone from outside of your household:

Even if you don't have symptoms, you should test right away to see if you are infected or 3–5 days following your last exposure date. If you test negative before Day 3, test again at least one day later, during the 3–5 days after your last exposure. See more guidance in the CDPH COVID-19 Calculator.

For an exposure to a household member:

You should test right away to see if you are infected. If you are negative, then test again 3-5 days later as it may take a couple of days for the virus to multiply enough to be detected on a test.

You should assume that your ill family member could infect you until they have had a negative test, or all of their symptoms have gone away. See more guidance in the CDPH COVID-19 Calculator​.​​

What are the next steps if my at home test is positive?

If you test positive you should contact your health care provider about treatment to find out if a prescription medicine (such as Paxlovid or Lagevrio) is recommended.

If you do not have a health care provider, you can reach one free virtually or by calling 833-686-5051.

For additional questions on treatment, refer to guidance on What to Do If You Test Positive for Covid-19. Avoid spreading COVID-19 to others by isolating for five days and using a well-fitted mask for ten days if you must be around others.

See CDPH Guidance for Local Health Jurisdictions on Isolation and Quarantine of the General Public and Quarantine and isolation guidance for more details.

Can I buy COVID-19 medications (Paxlovid or Lagevrio) at the drug store?

A prescription from a health care provider is needed to get Paxlovid or Lagevrio. Learn more about COVID-19 Treatment including  who should seek treatment and free virtual COVID-19 visits or by calling 833-686-5051.

Who is at risk of becoming seriously ill if infected, and should receive medication to treat COVID-19?

Anyone 50 years of age or older is at increased risk for severe disease and should have medications to treat COVID-19. Additionally, more than a third of Californians fall into a “High Risk" group. For information on high risk medical conditions, see the CDC guidance or talk to your doctor to find out if you are considered to be in a “High Risk" group that is more likely to need hospitalization or die due to COVID-19. ​


Originally published on May 24, 2023