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Where to find a COVID rapid test before Christmas (and what to do if you can't get one)

Annie Spratt
At-home rapid COVID-19 tests, like this one from Abbott, can be difficult to find.

Free at-home COVID test kits will be available starting Thursday morning for Hamilton County residents, just as demand for the rapid tests is surging ahead of the holidays.

County residents can pick up two free test kits at the Health Department office in Cincinnati or at the Board of Elections office in Norwood. Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says they ran out of kits this week, but they're picking up a few thousand from the Ohio Department of Health Wednesday afternoon.

Branches of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, as well as the YMCA, were giving out free at-home tests, but both report being entirely out of stock as of Wednesday afternoon.

If you can't find a rapid test and want to get tested before holiday gatherings this weekend, Kesterman says the Test and Protect program still offers no-cost PCR testing throughout the region.

"Currently, most of those locations are seeing results anywhere between 12 and 24 hours, so very quick turnaround," he says. "Not as quick as the at-home test kits, but certainly the most accurate type of test available."

The no-cost PCR testing is available at more than 40 locations through Dec. 28. A testing clinic is scheduled for Dec. 28 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cincinnati Health Department (805 Central Ave).

The county's contract with the Health Collaborative for Test and Protect is funded by the federal CARES Act and expires at the end of the year. County commissioners allocated up to $1.5 million in new federal stimulus for community testing in 2022; plans for that testing program are still in progress.

And if you can't find a test?

Kesterman says getting tested is one precaution you can take ahead of seeing people for the holidays.

"But testing only works so far," he warns. "If you have not fully developed your symptoms, a test still may come back negative and you could still be a carrier of COVID-19."

He says the best way to keep everyone safe is to stay home if you have any kind of symptoms.

"If you think about it, you don't want to go around grandma and grandpa if you have the flu, a cold or COVID-19 - all three can be very harmful to the elderly and those other individuals that have other health conditions," Kesterman says. "So our first message is keep sick at home regardless of if you have access to a test kit."

Ohio reached a record number of new cases this week and hospitals are once again concerned about capacity.

Tested or not, and showing symptoms or not, Kesterman says if you decide to visit with friends and family this week you should take precautions:

  • Outside gatherings are the safest
  • Get vaccinated (and boosted) and associate with others who are vaccinated
  • If visiting unvaccinated people, keep six feet of distance and/or wear a mask

"We still have a lot of COVID in our community," Kesterman says. "Make wise decisions so that you're not part of the problem."

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.