COVID cases and hospitalizations have been ticking upward across the nation in recent weeks, including in the Philadelphia area.
As summer winds down and students head back to school, things aren’t at the level they were earlier in the pandemic — but there’s still been a late-summer increase that public health experts have flagged. In Philly, 60 people were hospitalized with COVID as of Aug. 31, according to the Department of Public Health, which is the highest number since springtime.
Philly’s public health department is advising “sensible precautions in anticipation of a possible continued rise in the number of cases of COVID-19 over the coming months,” like staying home when you’re sick, considering masking in indoor crowds, and getting tested if you aren’t feeling well.
If you think you might have COVID, or if you want to make sure you don’t have it before going to an event or gathering, getting a test can help you figure that out.
Testing can get expensive these days, though, since the federal public health emergency that guaranteed widespread free testing ended in May, and health insurers are no longer required to cover it.
A bit of good news, though: The federal government recently announced it would reopen orders for free mailed at-home tests.
And it’s also still possible to track down a test in-person for less than $10, or for no cost at all. We’ve rounded up a couple options for where to look if you’re seeking one out.
Free for anyone: At-home tests mailed directly to you
Starting Sept. 25, the Biden administration is reopening the COVIDtests.gov website, which will ship four free at-home tests to each U.S. household that requests one. The website is set to stay open through the holidays — and possibly longer if there’s an increase in COVID cases, per reporting from the Associated Press.
Free for anyone: At-home tests from city resource hubs
Mondays through Fridays, you can pick up two free at-home rapid COVID test kits from one of the city Health Department’s resource hubs. No insurance or ID is required.
There are five locations:
- Mi Salud Wellness Center – 200 E. Wyoming Ave. (Feltonville)
- Bethany Baptist Church – 5747 Warrington Ave. (Kingsessing)
- The Shoppes at La Salle – 5301 Chew Ave. (East Germantown)
- Mt. Enon Baptist Church – 500 Snyder Ave. (Whitman)
- Whitman Plaza – 330 W. Oregon Ave. (South Philly)
Hours can vary, so check the online calendar before you go.
Free for anyone: Fumo Family Library and Whitman Library distribution events
Two branches of the Free Library have several COVID test distributions on their fall calendars. You don’t need insurance or ID to pick up an at-home test at one of the events, which are first come, first served.
Fumo Family Library events, located at 2437 S Broad St.:
Whitman Library events, located at 200 Snyder Ave.:
Free for anyone: PCR or rapid tests at community testing events
The city hosts community testing events around the city in a different location each day. At these sites, you can generally get either a PCR test (results available in 1–3 days) or rapid test (results available in 15 minutes). There’s no out-of-pocket cost, according to the city’s website, and you don’t need insurance. No appointment is required, either.
For the next month, they’re scheduled daily from each Tuesday through Saturday. All of them begin at 9 a.m., with some ending at 11 a.m. and others ending at 1 p.m. Most events offer both PCR and rapid tests, but there are a few exceptions.
This week, stops include Juniata Recreation Center, Bartram’s Garden, and Holy Temple Church in Fairmount, but every week is different, so check the online calendar for information about exact locations, dates, and times.
Free for event organizers (application required): At-home tests ahead of big gatherings
If you’re looking to have a big gathering — like a festival, a funeral, or some other kind of community gathering — you can apply to a city-run program that offers a supply of free COVID tests for attendees ahead of the event.
To qualify, your organization has to have “established roots in Philadelphia communities.”
Supplies are limited, so organizations that serve communities who lack good healthcare access and events with higher risk of transmission are given preference.
You can apply online.
Under $10 for anyone, free for some people: Over-the-counter at-home tests from a pharmacy
Some at-home tests can get a little pricey, but Rite Aid, CVS, and Target locations in Philly each carry FlowFlex brand tests for $10 or less per test. (Target seems to be the cheapest among those — the cost is listed online as $8 for one.) Walmart carries several brands that end up costing under $10 per test.
If you are insured through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, you should be able to get reimbursed for over-the-counter COVID tests until the end of September 2024, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
If you have private insurance, check with your insurance company to see if you can be reimbursed — unlike earlier in the pandemic, coverage is up to each insurer, not mandated across the board
Free for symptomatic or exposed people without insurance: Increasing Community Access to Testing program sites
If you don’t have health insurance AND you’ve either been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms related to it, you can qualify for free testing at a site that’s part of the federal Increasing Community Access to Testing, or ICATT, program. The exact type of test you can receive varies by location.
There are 15+ eligible sites in Philly as of now, which are all either CVS, Walgreens, or Quest locations. You can use the CDC’s search tool to find one now.
Other options for people with health insurance
A number of other sites and health providers still provide COVID testing throughout the city, but the question of whether it’s covered by insurance varies a lot depending on the type of insurance you have.
Medicaid and CHIP will cover lab-based PCR testing for COVID for the next year in addition to at-home tests. People with Medicare Part B can get tested with no out-of-pocket costs when a PCR or antigen test is ordered by a medical provider. Private insurance coverage varies, so check with your insurance to find out if testing is covered.
Updated Sept. 21 to include information about ordering at-home tests from the federal government.