Sep 5, 2023 - Health

How to check if old or expired COVID-19 tests still work

Illustration of clock with a q-tip for the hour hand

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Before tossing out any old at-home COVID tests, you might want to check if the expiration date has been extended.

Why it matters: People may be rummaging through closets and cupboards for old tests amid a late summer COVID-19 wave — and as insurance coverage and federal assistance for them has lapsed or changed.

  • The Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance on tests' expiry dates, saying extensions "means the manufacturer provided data showing that the shelf-life is longer than was known when the test was first authorized."
  • The FDA said the shelf-life refers to "how long the test should work as expected and is measured from the date the test was manufactured."
  • The FDA has extended the expiration dates of more than half of the 36 approved at-home, over-the-counter COVID tests and said it will continue to update the list as more "shelf-life extensions are authorized."

How to check for your test's viability

  • First, follow the FDA's table on extended expiration dates and search for the specific manufacturer and name matching the test's box label.
  • Next, under the "Expiration Date" column, check if it has an "Extended Expiration Date" link listed.
  • After clicking on the "Extended Expiration Date" link, compare the original expiration date using your test's lot number to the newly issued expiration date.

Do old tests detect new COVID strains?

  • New variants continue to sweep the nation, including the BA.2.86, which has already popped up in four states, according to the CDC last week.
  • The EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants have also been circulating more widely — and scientists expect tests will be able to detect newer variants.
  • "With EG.5, it's very clear that at-home tests as well as many of the other tests that are done at medical institutions, hospitals and other places all recognize that and other currently circulating variants right now," Johns Hopkins' Andrew Pekosz told CNBC.

Are expired COVID tests safe to use?

  • "If the Expiration Date column does not say the expiration date is extended, that means the expiration date on the box label of your test is still correct," the FDA noted.
  • The FDA cautions against using expired at-home COVID tests, as they could "degrade, or break down, over time" and lead to "inaccurate or invalid test results," according to earlier guidance.

Are free tests still available?

As of June 1, the U.S. government suspended its program offering free at-home tests and said they are preserving the remaining supply.

  • "The U.S. government will continue to make COVID-19 tests available to uninsured individuals and underserved communities through existing outreach programs," according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Most insurers no longer have to provide free tests since the expiration of the COVID public health emergency earlier this year.

Of note: The CDC and FDA said an updated booster shot targeted at a more recent variant will be available in mid-September.

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