Health  |  News & Politics

Need a Covid Test? Here’s How to Get One in the DC Area.

As the Washington region experiences a Covid uptick, tests can be tougher to find.

Photograph by Focal Foto/Flickr.

Waning immunity, a new variant, and lowered health precautions are contributing to a Covid uptick in the Washington area. However, it can be tough to get tested these days. The Biden administration ended Covid public health emergency in May, which dried up lots of funding for resources like tests. In DC, public libraries stopped offering free test kits in February and the District shuttered its Covid centers in March.

“This is a bigger problem than just Covid, it’s a problem with our testing infrastructure,” says Don Milton, a professor at the school of public health at the University of Maryland.

That said, it’s possible to grab a test if you need one. Here’s a quick guide:

Should I Get Tested?

Melissa Hawkins, an epidemiologist and director of American University’s Public Health Scholars, recommends you get tested if you’re feeling symptomatic and before spending time with large crowds and with people who are vulnerable, like your grandparents.

If you’re not feeling well but can’t get tested, says Amanda Castel, an epidemiology professor at George Washington University, then “do the things that we’ve been doing in the past—wear a mask if you’re not sure, and try to effectively isolate yourself until you start to feel better.”

Check Your Local Drugstore

Call or stop in at a Walgreens or CVS location near you. Both stores keep a regular stock of take-home tests that cost between $10 to $25 and will give you results in 15 minutes.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, these one-time tests are often antigen tests, which use antibodies to check for signs of the virus in your system and are less effective if you’re early on into your infection or asymptomatic. Antigen tests can also expire—but the FDA has an online resource to help check tests’ shelf life.

Despite the above, experts say that these tests are good in a pinch if you’re feeling sick or need to get tested fast.

For a more accurate test, a few CVS and Walgreens pharmacies offer in-person PCR testing, which may require co-pay or out-of-pocket fees. PCR tests look for strains of Covid in your system and must be analyzed in a lab, so it may take a few days to get your result, but they’re more effective than their antigen test counterpart. Both CVS and Walgreens require you to schedule an appointment and only offer testing at select stores. Here are lists of the local ones.

Ask Your Doctor

Your personal physician may also give you a PCR test for Covid, but similar to CVS or Walgreens, it will require an appointment and may involve out-of-pocket costs.

Try Online

Shopping online is also a good option to find tests fast. Amazon can deliver packs of test kits to you on quick notice if you are isolating or don’t have time to book an appointment. You can also order tests with delivery services like GoPuff. Doordash unveiled a test delivery service during the pandemic, too.

Some Free Tests Are Still Available

While DC ended its testing programs at libraries and Covid centers, a spokesperson for the Office of Contracting and Procurement says the agency has a stockpile of Covid-19 tests that will expire in December 2023. Until then, some nonprofit programs like schools, health centers, and libraries can request to receive additional test kits.

In Maryland, some Montgomery County libraries are offering rapid test kits and KN95 masks to residents. In Virginia, Fairfax County offers Covid testing via appointment at its clinics. Call ahead of time to schedule an appointment. Alexandria County, there are free tests still listed as available online at locations like libraries or the YMCA, but again, call ahead of time to check test availability.

Correction: This post originally incorrectly said that antigen tests check for signs of Covid antibodies. Antigen tests use antibodies to check for signs of the virus. 

Nick Pasion
Editorial Fellow