A BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test made by Abbott Laboratories (not necessarily the kind Philly is giving out)

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City residents can pick up free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits at several Philadelphia Department of Public Health vaccine clinics popping up this week, which makes it slightly easier for people to stay safer at holiday gatherings.

Supply at each pop-up is limited, although the health department replenished stores at two locations Monday as lines stretched around the block.

As the omicron variant surges, there’s a high chance of viral spread when people are indoors in close proximity without masks, which is why Philly Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole urged people to consider skipping celebrations for the second year in a row. It’s not what anyone wants to hear, or do.

If you’re still planning to gather with friends or family, two precautions can lower the risk:

  1. Make sure everyone in the group is fully vaccinated (and boosted, if eligible)
  2. Ask everyone to take a COVID test before they come. If someone tests positive within 24 hours of the event, they don’t attend, and the party is safer for all.

Problem with the second part: It’s not easy to find a test.

Several pharmacies and health care offices won’t let you schedule unless you’re already showing symptoms, and many that do are booked well in advance. One option where people have found success is the Curative site in Lot Q at Citizens Bank Park. Hospitality businesses like restaurants and hotels can also get reimbursed for COVID tests purchased for staff through the PRLA.

You can buy your own at-home rapid tests, which are less accurate than the lab-run PCR tests but useful for confirming a negative. Those are also difficult to come by, however, with many options sold out. When you do find a source, they’re somewhat pricey. At $7 to $14 each (and up), testing a family before each of multiple gatherings can run into the hundreds.

The White House has a plan to distribute 500 million free at-home COVID tests across the U.S. But the website to request them isn’t expected to be active until January, after the winter holidays are over.

If you want a rapid test now and you live in Philly, there’s another option.

After an initial pop-up on Saturday, the health department is hosting nine COVID vaccination events between Monday and Thursday Wednesday where up to 24,000 at-home test kits will be available, according to spokesperson James Garrow.

“We’re offering the test kits at all of our pop-up clinics until Christmas,” Garrow said. “They are free to any Philadelphia resident.”

In other words, you can swing through and pick up your test kits even if you’re already vaccinated — you don’t have to be there to get a shot. “We hope that people who still need their vaccine will get one while they’re there, though,” Garrow added.

There’s a limited supply, so free kits are limited to two per person and four per household. Check out the schedule of when and where to get them below. (Links go to Google Maps.)

Monday, Dec. 20

Tuesday, Dec. 21

Wednesday, Dec. 22

Thursday, Dec. 23

Note: This vaccine clinic is still active, but there will be no rapid test giveaway — all 24,000 in supply had been given out as of Wednesday evening, according to the health department’s Twitter account.