There’s a chance your test result may show up as invalid. This means the test didn’t work. If this happened with your first test, you can try again with the second one in the box (though you’ll need to buy another pack to test again).  

Fluctuating Stock and Insurance Coverage

Snagging a rapid at-home Covid test isn’t as simple as walking into a drugstore or clicking Add to Cart these days. Stock is in constant flux, so you’ll need to regularly check online or at physical retail stores. We suggest calling your local drugstores and pharmacies to check for availability. 

To keep up with increased demand, retailers are capping the number of tests per customer. At Walgreens, you’ll be limited to four tests per purchase both in stores and online; Walmart is limiting its customers to eight tests when you purchase online (there’s no limit in-store). At CVS, you’ll only be able to purchase six tests at a time.

At-home kits can add up in cost quickly. The Biden administration recently announced plans to distribute 500 million rapid at-home Covid test kits across the US for free, but this won’t start until January. Your only option is to pay out of pocket for over-the-counter rapid kits. For now, kits are only covered by insurance if they’re ordered through your medical provider, based on your symptoms. But we recommend saving receipts, as your private health insurance company might reimburse you. Have a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA)? You can opt to use either to purchase rapid at-home covid test kits.

Rapid At-Home Covid-19 Tests

BinaxNow athome COVID test
Photograph: Abbott

Walgreens, Walmart ($14), CVS, Sam’s Club ($14), Rite Aid

Abbot’s BinaxNow kit provides results within 15 minutes after swabbing your nose and inserting the sample into the included test card. You can then use Navica, the companion app, to self-report your results. Those who test negative will receive a temporary encrypted digital pass that they can use as official proof of their test result. With two tests in each box, the company recommends taking another one over the course of three days—no sooner than 24 hours but no later than 48 hours. A few members of the Gear team have used this test. We cannot verify its accuracy, but we can say it was relatively straightforward to use.

Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Simply Medical, Everlywell ($25), Carewell ($26)

With the QuickVue at-home test, all you need to do is swab both your nostrils, swirl it in the prefilled tube of solution, and dip in the test strip for 10 minutes. If the result is positive, you’ll see both a blue line and a pink line appear on the strip. If it’s negative, you’ll only see a blue line. This kit also comes with two separate tests, so you can take another one within three days. I have used this test, and I found it easy to administer and understand.