COVID-19 home tests and holiday gatherings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends diagnostic testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19, or have had close contact with someone with COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC also requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test for international travelers who plan to return to the U.S. by air.

If you are worried about gathering with others who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, you may wonder about using COVID-19 home tests to find out whether you and people around you have current COVID-19 infection.

While this is not currently recommended by the CDC, over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 testing kits are becoming more widely available.

What is a COVID-19 self-testing kit?

You can buy an at-home or OTC COVID-19 test and collection kit without a prescription. They are available at some pharmacies, retail stores or online.

You can visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website to learn more.

Are certain types of at-home/OTC tests better than others?

If used correctly, all COVID-19 diagnostic at-home/OTC tests currently authorized by the FDA perform are reliable.

How to use a home test

Follow the test instructions exactly and perform the steps in the order that they are listed. The test kit may also provide other resources, such as quick reference guides or instructional videos, to help you perform the test correctly.

Using home tests before attending or hosting a holiday gathering

A home test is another layer of precaution to lower risk, especially if you:

  • Have children under age 5 who aren’t yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, or
  • Plan to visit or gather with friends or family who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.

Rapid tests are home tests that produce results in 15 minutes or less. Suggestions on when to take a test for best use of these tests in advance of holiday gatherings include:

  • For one-day events like a family dinner, take the test the day of the gathering.
  • For events over more than one day, such as weekend visits, test more than once: Once before traveling to the event and again a day or two later.

If you test positive:

  • Do not attend or host any holiday gatherings.
  • Stay home and isolate from others for at least 10 days.
  • Tell your close contacts and your health care provider right away.
  • Seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen or become severe.

Learn more about what to do if you test positive for COVID-19.

Does health insurance cover home tests?

The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon’s coordinated care organizations cover at-home/OTC products (up to four tests per month) without a prescription or prior authorization for Oregon Health Plan and CAWEM members.

Medicare and other health insurance plans do not typically cover at-home/OTC products, but are required to cover COVID-19 tests when ordered by a health care provider.

If you have a flexible spending account for health care expenses, you may be able to use that account to pay for COVID-19 at-home/OTC products.

The best protection: COVID-19 vaccines

If you are unvaccinated, a home test is helpful for the same reasons, but does not offer the protection of a COVID-19 vaccine. If you want to safely see your friends and family, get vaccinated if you are eligible.

Vaccines are safe and are the most effective way to protect us against serious illness and hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Find more information and a vaccine site near you at GetVaccinated.Oregon.gov.