There are now multiple ways some Illinois residents can order free COVID test kits, but your options depend on where you live as new state and federal programs begin.
In certain ZIP codes in 14 Illinois counties, thousands of at-home, rapid COVID tests are being made available for free, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced last week.
That's on top of a government program that launched earlier this month for all Americans.
Here's what to know about how and where residents in the state can get free COVID test kits.
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What is the new state program and how can you order tests?
According to IDPH, 225,000 test kits are being made available through Project Access COVID Tests to residents in certain zip codes.
Residents in the eligible communities can order the tests via AccessCovidTests.org, where they can sign up for a free home delivery. Each household will then receive five tests, or one kit, within two weeks of ordering. Shipping is free, IDPH noted.
"These tests are available on a first-come-first-served basis," the department said.
“Testing is still a critical component for slowing transmission of COVID-19 and helping prevent further infections,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “With readily available at-home testing, individuals can find out very quickly if they are positive and take action to isolate for five days while alerting those with whom they had close contact that they should also test. Readily available tests can help us chart a course for the new normal and help us learn how to coexist with COVID-19.”
Which ZIP codes are eligible for free tests in Illinois?
Counties included in the program are Cook, DuPage, Henry, Jackson, Jefferson, Kankakee, Lake, Macon, Madison, Marion, Peoria, St. Clair, Will, and Winnebago counties.
Here's a full list of eligible zip codes:
Cook County - 60302, 60651, 60164, 60165, 60609, 60632, 60406, 60445, 60472, 60803, 60626, 60659, 60616, 60653, 60636, 60621, 60620, 60628, 60624, 60644, 60411, 60461, 60466, 60612, 60619, 60651
DuPage County - 60106, 60131
Henry – 61345, 61443
Jackson – 62864
Jefferson - 62864
Kankakee – 60901, 60915
Lake – 60064, 60085
Macon – 62521, 62522, 62526
Madison - 62002
Marion – 62801, 62882
St. Clair – 62040, 62059, 62060, 62090, 62201, 62206, 62207
Will – 60432, 60435, 60436
Winnebago – 61101, 61103, 61111, 61102, 61104
What if you live in a ZIP code that's not listed?
A government website to order free tests for your household launched earlier this month, with some beginning to arrive earlier last week.
The new federal website, covidtests.gov, to request free test kits launched two weeks ago, with the first shipments expected to go out to Americans by the end of the month.
"The tests will be completely free—there are no shipping costs and you don’t need to enter a credit card number," the website states.
The Biden administration also launched a phone line for people to order free COVID-19 tests, a senior White House policy adviser said, expanding availability to people who may not have internet access.
Households can call 800-232-0233 to request up to four free tests. It will complement the federally run website.
The phone line will offer services in English, Spanish and 150 other languages.
Is there another way to get a COVID test for free?
Private insurers are required to cover the cost of up to eight at-home rapid tests per month per insured person, according to a new Biden administration rule.
People have the option of buying tests at a store or online, then seeking reimbursement from their health insurance provider. Insurers are being incentivized to work with pharmacies and retailers to develop plans to cover the cost of the tests with no out-of-pocket cost to customers, but those programs will not be immediately widespread.
Those with public health insurance through Medicare, or without insurance, will be directed to covidtests.gov to order tests or to community health centers in their area offering free testing.
The Biden administration says the procedures will differ from insurer to insurer, and it is encouraging Americans to save receipts from rapid test purchases for later reimbursement and to reach out to their insurance providers for information.
Critically, the requirement only covers purchases on or after Jan. 15. Insurers are not expected to retroactively reimburse the cost of tests purchased earlier.
Which tests will the state be shipping to residents?
IDPH said the tests that will be shipped to residents have been given emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The tests will require a nasal swab and results will be available within minutes.
What about the government tests?
The specific tests will vary.
The federal government has secured more than 420 million tests for distribution through covidtests.gov already, with plans to increase the order to 1 billion tests in the coming weeks. All of the tests supplied will be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and are capable of detecting the more-transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19, which is the dominant strain in the U.S. While they are packaged differently and may use slightly different procedures, officials said, the test mechanisms of detection and effectiveness are generally the same. All tests will come with detailed instructions.
According to the site, people will not be able to choose which brand of at-home tests they receive, but "all tests distributed as part of this program are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests."
How many tests can I get?
Under the state program, each eligible household can receive five tests, or one kit, within two weeks of ordering. IDPH said that requirement is during the first phase of the program, but added that the Rockefeller Foundation "is actively working to bring in new partners to scale the program."
For the government program, however, the White House says that “to promote broad access," shipments will initially be limited to four rapid tests per residential address, no matter the number of occupants.
Why is the state only allowing certain ZIP codes and how did it choose which ones are eligible?
Eligibility for the free tests was based on the state's "social vulnerability index," which looks at more than a dozen social factors such as socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, housing and transportation.
IDPH determined initial eligibility based on the Social Vulnerability Index, which looks at 14 social factors in the areas of socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, and housing and transportation.
When is the best time to test for COVID?
The CDC states that anyone who may have been exposed to someone with COVID should test five days after their exposure, or as soon as symptoms occur.
"If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19," the guidance states.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike previously said that incubation times could be changing, but those who test early should continue testing even if they get negative results.
"We might be learning that the time of incubation might be a little shorter. So maybe you'd be testing at two days," Ezike said. "Obviously if you're symptomatic, you test right away. But you know, if you want to test at two days, but that negative test... the two days should not make you think, 'Oh good, I'm clear,' you know? You might want to test again and of course symptoms you cannot ignore - scratchy throat, headaches, all kinds of symptoms - anything new can be a symptom of this new illness."
What should you do if you test positive using an at-home test?
Those who test positive using an at-home test are asked to follow the latest CDC guidelines and communicate the results to their healthcare provider, who is responsible for reporting test results to the state health department.
According to Chicago-area health departments, people should assume the test results are accurate and should isolate from others to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
"If you test positive for COVID-19, you must isolate," Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, previously said. "There is no need to repeat a positive at-home test in a medical setting. We don't want people going into the emergency department just to get a tested. Treat a positive as a positive, stay home and isolate for five days."