Find and buy the at-home rapid tests with these tips


Searching for an at-home COVID test? It may seem daunting, but it is possible to find testing kits in stores and online with some tools, determination and sometimes luck in the face of ongoing shortages.

Some are using the same tactics to find the tests that are being used to score the hard-to-find PS5 and Xbox Series X video game consoles: Following Twitter and social media accounts that blast when the tests are back in-stock.

There are also apps and websites that alert consumers when new tests arrive.

And there’s Eli Coustan, a 14-year-old from the Evanston suburb of Chicago, who has made it his mission to help people find at-home tests.

COVID tests: How to get free at-home COVID-19 tests with insurance reimbursement

►COVID quarantine and isolation guide: What to know and what to have at home

The ninth-grader said he started his website at the end of December after seeing how difficult it was to find the at-home tests.

“I had created a site to find vaccines earlier in the pandemic and knew that I would be able to use a lot of similar technology to create something to find at-home tests you can order online and get shipped,” Eli told USA TODAY, adding he started in February 2021 after he saw how hard it was for his grandparents to get appointments.

Tips to find at-home COVID tests

Your mileage may vary but here are tips to help you find at-home COVID tests and other items that are shortage items.

In-stock alerts

For shopping online, alerts or notifications whether from store apps or third-party sites or apps are one of the best ways to find available inventory when it restocks.

Target has in-stock alerts that you can sign up for with its app. Apps, including Hot Stock, also can send you notifications. The app is free but there’s an option to pay $5.49 to receive notifications for up to 10 products.

Eli says his site automatically updates every five to 10 minutes and site visitors can sign up for text notifications.

The site tracks COVID tests online inventory at Amazon, CVS, Costco, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club and more and you can select the brand of test you’re interested in. 

♦ Shopping tip: Once you get an alert, you’ll need to act fast as supplies will go fast and it can take multiple attempts.

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►COVID test prices: Prices up at Walmart, Kroger as at-home rapid tests remain hard to find

Check in-store test inventory with apps and Google Shopping

Before heading to a brick-and-mortar Target, Walmart or another retailer, you can get a better idea of store inventory by checking store websites or apps. But similar to ordering online, the inventory can quickly change.

Google Shopping also allows shoppers to check in-store inventory from home. Find local stores that carry the products you are looking for from Google Shopping and select the “in stock” filter to see only the nearby stores that have it on their shelves.

Shortages 2022: Grocery stores still have empty shelves amid supply chain disruptions, omicron and winter storms

►FDA warning: FDA warns against using unapproved COVID-19 tests because of a ‘high risk of false results’

Follow restock Twitter accounts for COVID test updates

According to a Vice story Thursday, several PS5 restock accounts on Twitter have started to post alerts about the COVID-19 test availability.

Here are three Twitter accounts to watch for test updates:

How to get free home COVID tests with insurance

With insurance companies now covering the over-the-counter tests as of Saturday, there will be new motivation to find tests. Many will be free after insurance reimbursement.

Private health plans are required to cover the over-the-counter tests at up to $12 per test. Consumers can either get the testing kits at no cost at participating pharmacies that their plan sets up or submit receipts for reimbursement from the insurance company.

Learn more about how to get insurance reimbursement here.

►MLK Day 2022: Stock market, most banks closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while stores, restaurants open

Order free tests at starting Wednesday 

Americans can start ordering free COVID-19 tests starting Wednesday from the Biden administration’s new website. Reimbursement isn’t required and shipping is free.

The website for ordering is and the site says “Every home in the U.S. can soon order 4 free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests.”

The tests, part of the administration’s purchase of 500 million tests last month to help tackle a record surge in infections, will be mailed to homes within seven to 12 days, according to an official who briefed reporters.

Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY; Associated Press

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For shopping news, tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group

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Americans can get free at-home COVID-19 tests soon — but they won’t work for travel

Americans can get free at-home COVID-19 tests soon — but they won’t work for travel

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The 5 Best At-Home COVID Tests of 2021

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At-home COVID tests are a great way to keep you up to date on your health and give you the answers you need if you think you may have coronavirus. There are a few kinds of tests on the market, with each one offering something slightly different.

“An at-home test is an antigen test, also known as a rapid COVID test, [and provides] results in 15 to 30 minutes,” says Laura Morris, MD, MSPH, a family medicine physician and co-chair of the University of Missouri Health Care’s COVID-19 vaccine committee. “A home collection kit is a swab taken at home that is then mailed to a testing company to run a PCR test, [often needed] before having a medical procedure or pre-travel.”

When looking for an at-home COVID test, keep an eye on the swab method (whether it’s oral or nasal) and the result speed. Additionally, pay attention to the timeline of your symptoms and potential exposure.

Tests are most accurate, says Dr. Morris, when a person is having COVID symptoms or has had a recent high-risk exposure. Meanwhile, PCR tests can detect lower levels of the virus, so they are more accurate for asymptomatic cases.

We researched dozens of at-home COVID test kits and evaluated them for test type, swab type, result speed, and pricing. Each of the tests chosen in this article was determined to be the best of these factors.

Here are the best at-home COVID test kits on the market today.

A Note From the Editors

While all the tests on our list have been cleared by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization, we recommend seeing a medical professional to confirm accuracy of any at-home test result. Additionally, we want to note that our editors are keeping a close eye on any product recalls to give you the best and most up-to-date information.

Final Verdict

You can’t beat the ease of use, quick results, and affordable price tag of the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test (view at Walmart). It’s the total package when it comes to antigen tests, allowing you to self-test at home and see your results 15 minutes later.

If you need a PCR test, you’ll have to collect your saliva sample and send it off to a lab, but the LetsGetChecked Coronavirus Test (view at LetsGetChecked) is user friendly and includes a prepaid UPS express shipping label for fast turnaround.

What to Look for in At-Home COVID Tests

Results Speed

A big deciding factor when it comes to COVID test kits is their results speed time. According to board-certified allergist and immunologist Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD, PCR tests must be mailed into a lab to test a collected sample, so it can take several days for them to notify you of a positive or negative result.

That may be fine if you’re getting ready to travel, working from home, or self-isolating because of potential exposure, but not if you were exposed several days ago and need to know ASAP if you’re infected.

“An antigen test provides rapid results in 10 to 15 minutes, so this can be an ideal option if immediate results are needed,” says Dr. Jain.

Antigen vs. PCR

There are two primary types of at-home COVID tests available on the market: antigen tests and PCR tests.

Antigen: An antigen test is “a diagnostic test that detects specific proteins from the virus.” Because of this, antigen tests can provide results quickly, thus are often used for rapid tests.

However, these tests are most accurate when there’s a high viral load present. Because of this, people who have COVID (or who have had it and are no longer contagious) and only have a small viral load at the time of the test could potentially receive a false negative result.

That being said, if you know you’ve been exposed to the virus, they can be a good first step to take to prevent spreading the illness.

PCR: A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is “a diagnostic test that detects genetic material from the virus.” PCR tests amplify the viral genetic material, which makes them more sensitive and thus more likely to be accurate. However, the added amplification step requires in-lab testing, which takes longer to process results.

“[A PCR] test may be a good option if you have been recently exposed and are not symptomatic, because it can detect the virus at lower levels in the body,” says Dr. Jain. He adds that while antigen tests give quicker results, they require more virus to be present in the body for a positive test result. “Antigen tests are an accurate way to test for COVID-19 in symptomatic persons.”

Accuracy and Recalls

It’s important to note that a number of at-home COVID tests have been recalled for false positives or negatives. We are closely monitoring the recalls in this product category and will update this document immediately as needed.

Method of Collection

There are three ways a COVID test sample can be collected: nasal swab, oral swab, and saliva “spit tube.” You should take the user into consideration before choosing a test—kids, for example, may be more willing participants to a spit test than a nasal swab—but it’s important to know that not all collection methods are created equal.

“Studies have shown that nasal tests and saliva tests are more accurate in detecting COVID-19 than throat swabs, and have become the best-practice standard when performing COVID-19 testing,” says Dr. Jain.

In fact, a 2021 study showed saliva and nasal samples to be equally sensitive in detecting the virus across variable stages of illness.

FDA Emergency Use Authorization

Just because your local drugstore is selling it doesn’t mean a certain test is a smart purchase. If it hasn’t been authorized by the FDA, you should pass it over for one that has. Our roundup only includes tests that have been authorized by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization.

“The FDA maintains a list of tests that have authorization, and using an FDA-authorized test ensures that it meets standards for performance and quality control,” explains Dr. Morris. “Many pharmacies sell devices that are authorized, and these are typically not costly. Be cautious of unbranded or very cheap tests, especially those that may come without instructions.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do at-home COVID tests work?

    There are two types of at-home COVID tests: PCR and antigen. Depending on your health priorities, you may want to look for one over the other.

    “A PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, home test [obtains saliva or] a sample of cells from the nasal passages, which is mailed back to a lab to be tested for COVID-19 DNA,” explains Dr. Sanjeev Jain. “If COVID-19 DNA is detected within the sample, the test would be considered positive, and if no DNA is detected, it would be considered negative.”

    But because DNA testing needs to be done in a lab, the rapid tests performed entirely at home use a different metric to determine presence of the virus.

    “[Rapid tests] are different in that they check for antigens, which are a specific type of protein found on the COVID-19 virus,” says Dr. Jain. “The COVID-19 antigen tests are able to give almost immediate at-home results by telling you whether or not the proteins found on the COVID-19 virus are detected in the sample.”

  • Are at-home COVID tests accurate?

    If you’re not a healthcare professional, can you trust the results you receive from taking samples of your own bodily fluids and testing them for COVID? Surprisingly, yes—but with some caveats.

    “The ability to detect COVID-19 in a self-collected sample is very comparable to a sample collected by a healthcare provider,” says Dr. Sanjeev Jain, “[although the accuracy of PCR and antigen] tests can be impacted by the timing of the test and the quality of the specimen collected.” 

    In other words, the person collecting the sample is a less impactful variable than the exposure timeline or your symptom profile—a rapid test performed on a newly exposed, asymptomatic person is less likely to come back positive than a PCR test, even if a doctor collects the sample.

    When taking an antigen test, you may need to test once and then wait a few days (when your viral load could be higher) to test again for most accurate results. This may be needed if you develop symptoms after the first antigen test.

    “It’s important to follow the specific instructions of each test as written by the manufacturer, including how to collect the sample, how to handle it, and how to interpret the test strip or read-out device,” explains Dr. Laura Morris. “Each one is slightly different, and a patient should not assume that they know how to perform a test based on using one in the past.”

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The US races to supply more at-home rapid Covid tests

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month approved tests by US company Flowflex, saying the decision “should significantly increase the availability” of instant tests.

But the moves mark something of an 11th hour scramble for instant, or antigen, tests — and the US is lagging dramatically behind many countries, where rapid coronavirus tests have been cheap and plentiful for months.

In the UK, for instance, at-home testing has become part of a weekly routine for millions; a pack of several tests can be ordered for free online once a day, offering results in as little as 15 minutes and allowing Brits to check their Covid-19 status before heading to work, school, social events or large gatherings.

Other countries have embraced the technology too. Since March, every German citizen has been entitled to one free antigen test a week. Cheap rapid tests are offered to anyone in Italian pharmacies. In France, they cost only around 6 euros ($7) and are readily available to buy. And in Spain, the tests have been available for purchase since July at around the same price. Even despite those affordable rates, Madrid pharmacies say supply is outpacing demand, likely due in part to the country’s high vaccination rates.

A lateral flow test showing a negative result in the UK.

Yet more nations are just now starting to roll out the option; on Monday, rapid at-home tests finally hit the shelves of Australia’s pharmacies and supermarkets, after being approved for use in the country.

It’s been a different story in the United States though, where those wanting the peace of mind offered by a home test kit are usually met with empty pharmacy shelves or high prices.

The shortfall traces back in part to the early months of the pandemic, when the US was slow to prioritize testing for Covid-19. Last month, former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who led the agency under former President Donald Trump, admitted the US “was always behind” on testing through much of 2020.

The government could have done more during that period to stimulate the private sector in developing testing, and he was “disappointed” it did not do so, Redfield told SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio.

But there has also been hesitancy over just how effective rapid tests are.

A vast, international review of studies published in March found that few antigen tests met the World Health Organization’s minimum acceptable performance standards. And in October, Covid-19 home test-maker Ellume announced a voluntary recall of some of its rapid antigen tests in the US, due to an increased chance of false positives.

A study in March by University College London found accuracy rates of around 80% in antigen tests used in the UK — higher than the international review, but below the levels provided by a PCR test.

Nonetheless, the US is hoping to join the band of nations where at-home testing is routine. If availability is ramped up, Americans could soon have another tool at their disposal when it comes to Covid-19.


Q: What happens if I test positive while on vacation?

A: The holiday season is quickly approaching, and relaxed rules on domestic and international travel mean that many people will be planning trips in the coming weeks.

But the threat of Covid-19 has not gone away. Taking a test is still a good idea if you’re spending time with vulnerable relatives, and if you’re flying internationally, it’s possible that you’ll need to test negative to enter or leave your destination.

That can lead to a headache when holidaymakers get a positive result while on vacation — a predicament many have already found themselves in.

You’ll likely have to arrange plans to isolate, but rules vary from country to country so it’s important to check before you travel. For instance, visitors to Italy are required to pay their own quarantine fees up-front if they test positive after they arrive.

“Travel insurance with Covid-19 quarantine coverage is designed to help cover the lodging and accommodation expenses you might incur should you test positive for Covid on vacation,” Narendra Khatri, president and CEO of Insubuy, which provides international travel medical insurance from various US-based companies, told CNN.

“The benefit amount depends entirely on the policy you choose. Most plans provide a minimum of $2,000 in quarantine, lodging, and accommodation expenses, and trip interruption up to 100% of the trip’s cost.”

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.


Why are we still arguing about face masks?

At the start of the pandemic, much of the Western world followed a similar playbook for tackling Covid-19. But those days are behind us. Pandemic management now differs widely from country to country, with the face mask being one example of the world’s increasingly fractured approach to Covid-19, Rob Picheta writes.

Debates still rage in multiple countries over their use, and some regions have recently removed mandates that people wear them in crowded spaces. “Masks remain a symbol of a divided society — between those who feel we have restricted too much and those who feel we have not intervened enough during the pandemic,” Simon Williams, a senior lecturer on Covid-19 behaviors at Swansea University in Wales, told CNN.

With the prospect of another winter surge brewing, some countries are grappling with calls to return to mask use. But they face resistance from people fatigued by endless mixed messaging — and many experts fear that in countries where rules have been relaxed, reimposing mandates could be complicated.

The billionaire vaccine prince whose plans went awry

As Covid-19 wreaked havoc around the world last year, the 39-year-old son of an Indian billionaire was laying the groundwork for a plan he hoped would eventually end the pandemic.

Adar Poonawalla — the CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker — pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into his Indian manufacturing facility and committed to making millions of doses of a then-unproven coronavirus vaccine.

That vaccine, created by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, was still in clinical trials at the time. Nobody was sure how long a vaccine would take to develop, let alone whether it would even work. “It was a calculated risk,” Poonawalla told CNN Business. The AstraZeneca vaccine received approval from UK regulators in December 2020, and Poonawalla became a household name in India.

But soon it became evident how badly Poonawalla had miscalculated the challenges that come with distributing millions of vaccines in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

His company’s ability to inoculate even his own countrymen was thrown into doubt earlier this year as a devastating wave of coronavirus hit India. He’s also failed to keep up with his commitment to deliver shots to other nations — the consequences of which have dented his reputation and shed light on the perils of such heavy reliance on one manufacturer.

China is becoming increasingly isolated as Asia starts to live with Covid

From Australia to South Korea and across Asia Pacific, the final bastions of “zero-Covid” are easing restrictions and opening borders as the region prepares to live with the virus — except for one major holdout.

China, the country where Covid-19 was first detected nearly two years ago, remains determined to eliminate the virus inside its borders, with officials there showing no signs of backing down, Ben Westcott writes.

Despite fully vaccinating more than 75% of its population, China is sticking to its stringent zero-Covid strategy, including closed borders, lengthy quarantine measures for all international arrivals and local lockdowns when an outbreak occurs. On Tuesday, the northwestern city of Lanzhou, with a population of more than 4 million people, went into lockdown after just six new daily Covid-19 cases were reported there. To date, Lanzhou has recorded 68 cases linked to the newest outbreak.

In China’s Asia Pacific neighbors, however, things couldn’t be more different: curfews are being lifted in South Korea and Japan, Thailand has started welcoming more international travellers, and Australia is re-opening its borders to fully vaccinated citizens who have been unable to return home for nearly two years.


The case for booster shots just got stronger

A new study from Israel has strengthened the case for Covid-19 booster jabs, which are currently being rolled out for older and at-risk groups in the US and several other countries.

Researchers looked at data for more than 1.4 million people in Israel, splitting them into two camps — those who had received a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and those who hadn’t.

The results were clear: Compared to those who did not receive a third shot, the booster decreased the rate of hospitalization, severe disease and death from Covid-19 by about 80% to over 90%, no matter the person’s gender, number of other underlying medical conditions, or age if over 40 years.

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At-home COVID-19 tests in high demand for events, travel, school requirements

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Demand for at-home COVID-19 tests is climbing in Northeast Ohio, as more venues and events require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination for admission.

The increased demand has brought concerns of possible shortages of the rapid at-home tests, said Dr. Christine Schmotzer, vice chair of system pathology operations at University Hospitals.

Tests have sold out online and at pharmacies across the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in September that the temporary shortage of rapid tests could lead to more demand for lab-based testing.

Schmotzer said medical experts aren’t concerned about testing availability for people who have COVID-19 symptoms and need them for medical evaluation or medical procedures at a hospital.

“What has led to kind of this burden on the system is an increased number of places requiring either vaccination or a negative test to go to an event or for some travel,” Schmotzer said. “So that’s the group that might be a little bit more at-risk by the potential decreases in availability of the rapid tests.”

Most of the at-home tests are antigen tests and are not as accurate compared to the PCR tests. Schmotzer said the antigen tests need more of a viral load to detect whether someone is positive. She noted an antigen test is most reliable when people are showing symptoms of COVID-19. A PCR test, though, can detect a positive result at a lower viral load.

Schmotzer emphasized the importance of getting a good nasal swab and following the instructions on the test kit in a previous story with Also, it’s best to test 3 to 7 days after a COVID exposure or within the first few days after the onset of symptoms for best accuracy.

The delta variant swept through the nation during the late summer, causing an increased number of hospitalizations and deaths. And though data shows case rates are decreasing, thousands of cases are still coming daily in Ohio.

In addition to the pharmacies, folks can also pick up tests for free at branches in the Cuyahoga County Public Library and Cleveland Public Library systems — as long as they’re in stock.

The Ohio Department of Health has been providing free BinaxNow at-home tests to libraries, local health departments, schools and universities and other community partners, Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Alicia Shoults wrote in an email.

Shoults said the state originally bought 2 million tests, and last week the controlling board approved the purchase of an additional 1 million tests, with an option to buy 400,000 at-home tests per month through June 2022.

The tests have been flying off the shelves at libraries, and it’s important people call ahead to make sure tests are available, said Rob Rua, a spokesman for Cuyahoga County Public Library. Rua said 11 branches in the library system are distributing the at-home tests through their drive-through windows where book service is typically done, and the goal is to soon implement curbside service for branches that don’t have a drive-through window.

He said some people have needed multiple kits, as they may have multiple children and parents may need to be tested as well due to potential exposure. Rua said as of Wednesday, the library system had distributed nearly 26,000 at-home tests.

Rua said the initial demand was quiet. “And then within the past month or so, it’s just been huge.”

Rua said the library initially would receive shipments of 2,000 at-home tests in the spring from the Ohio Department of Health, but this week the library received 16,000 tests.

Cleveland Public Library is experiencing similar high demand as people come downtown to pick up tests at the main library’s drive-through window, said Steve Wohl, the library system’s lending manager.

Before the delta variant’s surge, Wohl said the library was distributing 25-50 tests per week. But the week of Aug. 23, the library started seeing an uptick and handed out about 200 tests. Wohl said the number of tests provided “has been growing exponentially from there.”

He said demand has been from Cleveland Metropolitan School District parents and students, as well as from people attending weddings, concerts and sporting events.

The at-home tests are increasingly needed, particularly for people who need a result relatively quickly. President Joe Biden’s administration invoked the Defense Production Act in September to make 280 million rapid tests available, according to Kaiser Health News.

The administration also completed a deal with Walmart, Amazon and Kroger for the retailers to sell tests for “up to 35 percent less” than current prices for three months. People on Medicaid would have the at-home tests fully covered, Biden said.

BinaxNow at-home tests can be purchased at pharmacies such as CVS or Walgreens for $23.99. Still, tests like Ellume remain relatively expensive, particularly for families that would presumably need multiple tests. Ellume’s testing kit costs $38.99, so a family of four not on Medicaid would pay approximately $156.

Other testing options are still available, though, including at pharmacies like CVS.

Akron Children’s Hospital announced in a news release Wednesday that it’s starting drive-thru testing on its Akron campus for children, regardless of whether they’re patients or showing symptoms. Young adults up to age 26 still in the care of Akron Children’s Hospital can also receive a test, according to the release. Appointments are required and can be scheduled through MyChart.

Mercy Health’s Lorain branch said in a news release Tuesday that it has walk-in clinics at six locations for people seeking a COVID-19 test. The clinics are open seven days a week, and providers at the locations also offer “in-person and virtual visits to safely screen, isolate, and care for patients who may only be experiencing mild symptoms,” according to the release.

Shaker Heights Fire Department has also provided COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic, partnering with MetroHealth. Nurses from the hospital come weekly to the fire station on Chagrin Boulevard to provide PCR tests at the drive-through clinic. Appointments are required, and people can make them through MetroHealth.

Sweeney said the fire station hasn’t seen a shortage of tests recently, and he said there are other places to go too if people look hard enough.

“I think if somebody is resourceful enough and they’re willing to look around a little bit, I think you can find stuff,” Sweeney said. “I know that there’s been some media attention and there’s been talk about tests are hard to find right now, but I think if you kind of dig in a little bit, you can get things taken care of. That’s been my most recent experience is with people getting stuff from the library, people making appointments at CVS.”

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5 things to know about at-home COVID-19 tests for travel

5 things to know about at-home COVID-19 tests for travel

Advertiser Disclosure

Many of the credit card offers that appear on the website are from credit card companies from which receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers. Please view our advertising policy page for more information.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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United Introduces At-home COVID Testing Service for Passengers

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Delta to offer at-home COVID-19 tests for international travel requirements

In coming weeks, the Atlanta-based carrier will offer customers a pack of six COVID-19 tests for $150, plus taxes and shipping, via the airline’s website. International travelers will be able to use them at home and pack them for trips to meet testing requirements when flying in or out of the United States.

Delta also plans in coming weeks to allow customers to upload documents verifying COVID-19 test results via the airline’s website.

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