As much as we all want this pandemic to be over, it’s not yet. As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide, people have begun to turn to their at-home COVID-19 tests to help narrow down whether that sneeze was an allergy or the first sign of COVID.
But it’s also possible that, reaching under your bathroom sink for the first time in a few months, you noticed those free government COVID-19 tests you got a few months ago might be expired already, at least according to the date on the box. Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 test expiration dates —including how to get some more free COVID tests as the surge continues.
Do COVID-19 Tests Expire?
Like Advil and milk, at-home COVID-19 tests are marked with expiration dates. However, it’s important to note that the expiration date is more of a moving target than a hard line before you toss your tests in the trash.
COVID-19 Test Expiration Dates Can Shift — Here’s Why
The reason why at-home COVID-19 tests have such different expiration dates from one another (even when they operate off of the same technology) and why the expiration date should be considered a moving target has to do with the process that tests go through to get approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When a new test is approved, there is a six-month expiration date automatically given by the FDA.
However, that expiration date can get extended once the six months have passed if the tests are still effective. (Some tests are even good for 12 or 15 months after they are manufactured.)
The expiration dates shift because of the regulatory process companies go through to prove the shelf life of their products – which needs real-life, real-time data. In other words, companies are still gathering evidence on their tests as they hit the market. It also means that a test you have in your medicine cabinet might say it’s expired, and still might not be.
How Can I Check if the Expiration Date on my COVID-19 Test is Correct?
An FDA spokesperson told the Times that people concerned with an expired COVID-19 test can check online (antigen tests here; molecular tests here) to see if the particular test they have has expired or has not, regardless of what your COVID-19 test says on the box.
My Tests Are Expired. How Do I Get More Free Ones?
If you’re all out of COVID-19 at-home tests or the ones you have aren’t safe to use, after checking for extended expiration dates, you can order 8 new tests for free right now. The Biden administration is re-opening COVIDTests.gov to allow families to order an additional 8 tests for free.
All US families can order 8 tests in total this round, which will be free-of-charge, and mailed without charge as well. It’s not clear if any additional tests will be offered later on, but this is not the first time the government has mailed out free COVID-19 tests to people in need.
The Biden administration has long pressed Congress to approve additional funding for the nation’s Covid-19 response to allow for more testing, treatments, and vaccines. However, they’ve been unsuccessful in moving any funding forward.