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White House gives more info on COVID test-ordering site

The government website for ordering rapid tests for COVID-19 should be online by the end of this week, Dr. Tom Inglesby, leader of the White House’s new testing initiative, Tell Wednesday’s PBS News Hour. Inglesby said tests will start arriving this month.

President Joe Biden promised Americans last month 500 million free rapid home test kits, and said those kits would be available free of charge through a website. The White House has not released the URL yet, but Inglesby’s comment indicates that one will be online within days.

Biden has come under scrutiny for a nationwide shortage of testing kits amid an unprecedented explosion in COVID cases. The administration is now working to make home testing easier for COVID-19, by increasing supply and lowering costs. On Monday, his administration announced that, starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight COVID-19 home tests per month for people on their plans.

COVID-19 antigen rapid test kits are photographed in Washington, DC, Thursday, December 30, 2021.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

Cases are rising in the San Francisco Bay Area and the demand for testing has increased. The San Francisco County Department of Public Health says its testing sites have been operating at 500% to 900% capacity since the current increase began. Lines have wrapped around multiple blocks at COVID-19 testing sites across the region in recent days.

To help meet the test request, Breed on Tuesday announced a mayor’s order calling for private health care providers to ramp up testing and to provide weekly evidence to the Department of Public Health that they are providing COVID testing within 24 hours to patients who show or have been exposed to symptoms. Close contact with a positive person.

The city said San Francisco’s seven-day average was 1,525 new cases per day, as of January 4. COVID-19 hospital admissions numbers in San Francisco are starting to increase, but experts said they haven’t risen to the level they likely would with fewer people vaccinated. In the city, 85% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.


Amidst the demand for the test, we answered some questions you might have. Some of this information previously appeared on SFGATE but has been updated as recommendations change and new information becomes available. Please send more questions to agraff@sfgate.com.

Who should be tested?

If you’ve been fully vaccinated and don’t feel sick, health officials say you generally don’t need to get tested — especially now when many people who really need to get tested can’t get through. If you feel sick and develop symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you get tested even if you have been vaccinated.

Testing is also recommended if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the COVID virus. If you’ve had a full vaccination, public health guidelines recommend testing on the fifth day after exposure.

You can start testing as early as day three, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Infectious Diseases. This is because the incubation period for omicron, the dominant species in the United States, appears to be shorter than previous variants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said symptoms can begin to appear as early as three days after exposure.

If you tested negative on day 3, you can test again on day 4 or 5, depending on your condition and access to test kits.

“Just be sure not to count the day of exposure,” Schaffner advised when deciding which day to test. “If you are exposed to Monday, then Tuesday is the first day, Wednesday is the second day, and Thursday is the third.”

People in cars wait in line to get a COVID-19 test by car at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland, Calif., Jan. 4, 2022. The line stretched over three blocks, causing people to wait more than an hour to receive an RT-PCR test COVID.

People in cars wait in line to get a COVID-19 test by car at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland, Calif., Jan. 4, 2022. The line stretched over three blocks, causing people to wait more than an hour to receive an RT-PCR test COVID.

Douglas Zimmermann/Svgat

Where can I take the test?

You can go directly to your health care provider such as Kaiser Permanente or Sutter Health for the test. Pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS also provide the tests.

For more testing options, consult resources from your county that may provide unique testing opportunities at community clinics and pop-up clinics.

-Find test information for Alameda County.
-Find test information for Contra Costa County.
-Find test information for Marin County.
-Find test information for Napa County.
Find test information for San Francisco.
-Find test information for San Mateo County.
-Find test information for Santa Clara County.
-Find test information for Sonoma County.
-Find test information for Solano County.

Where can I buy home COVID tests?

Over-the-counter antigen tests can be purchased online or at most drugstores and give you results within 15 minutes. They’re not as reliable as PCR tests, but you’re more likely to catch COVID when people are most infectious.

These tests sold out quickly. Check with your local pharmacy to find out when they will receive a new shipment. You can also order it online.

Starting Saturday, you can check with your health insurance about coverage for tests at home.

I have a student with symptoms. Can my family get tested through the school district?

Most school districts offer testing options for students and families. Check with your students’ school district for availability.

For example, San Francisco Unified School District provides mobile rapid testing for students returning from winter vacation, as well as San Francisco Department of Public Health testing sites and the district’s ongoing color testing program. Students also receive take-home express test kits from the California Department of Public Health. You can find testing options for students on the SFUSD website.

Faith Terrieri, a Youngstown Department of Health worker, receives two at-home COVID-19 test kits for distribution during a distribution event, December 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio.  Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for those on their plans, the Biden administration announced Monday, as it looks to cut costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid mounting frustrations.

Faith Terrieri, a Youngstown Department of Health worker, receives two at-home COVID-19 test kits for distribution during a distribution event, December 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio. Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for those on their plans, the Biden administration announced Monday, as it looks to cut costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid mounting frustrations.

David Dermer/AFP

Where can I take the test to meet travel requirements?

Many test sites that offer PCR tests are late and cannot guarantee test results within a certain time period. If you need a negative test for travel – for example the UK requires one day before your plane leaves for England – you need to make sure the location can guarantee a turnaround before your flight.

You also need to enter the specific test requirements for your destination and ensure that your test result meets them. For example, Hawaii will only accept test results from test partners deemed reliable (see list on HawaiiCOVID19.com).

While the test is free or covered by insurance at many test sites, you may have to pay up to $100 or more to test at a site that guarantees faster completion. Airport websites are a good resource for sites that guarantee certain time slots. For example, San Francisco International Airport lists three options, including job site labs, which provide results within 1.5 hours for $250.

Auckland International Airport directs passengers traveling to Hawaii who need to test negative to the CityHealth website.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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