What Happens to Tests After the Emergency Ends?

When the public health emergency ends on May 11th, rapid COVID tests won’t go away. But for most people, they won’t be free.

Liz Ruark
Mini shopping cart with COVID tests and masks inside

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: When the public health emergency (PHE) ends on May 11th, you’ll still be able to buy rapid COVID tests, and you can still use the ones you have, as long as they’re not expired.

Wait, what? Why would rapid tests suddenly disappear?

Most of the rapid tests for COVID you can buy in the US are under what’s called Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). That means the FDA reviewed the tests more quickly than they normally would before allowing them to be sold in this country. They did this because we were in a pandemic, and we needed rapid tests available as fast as possible.

EUAs are only allowed when the secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decides there’s a public health emergency that is very likely “to affect national security or the health of US citizens living abroad.” But here’s the thing: The public health emergency that covers rapid tests isn’t the same as the public health emergency that’s going away on May 11th.

Public Health Emergency for TESTS AND MEDICAL THINGS

Public Health Emergency for OTHER STUFF

Will tests be under EUA forever?

Also no. Eventually, the Section 564 PHE will go away, too — and the EUAs will go with it. But the FDA has been working with test makers for months on getting tests fully approved. And the federal government has promised that they’ll give at least 180 days’ notice before getting rid of the declarations that allow EUAs.

What will change about tests after May 11th?

The PHE that ends on May 11th allowed the federal government to do a lot of things related to money. One of those things was to require private and other insurers to cover the cost of eight rapid tests per beneficiary per month. On May 11th, that requirement ends. So, while rapid tests will still be around, most people will have to pay for them in some way. (We have a whole other blog post that explains who’ll have to pay what.)

These emergencies will end. COVID won’t.

It’s wonderful to be moving out of the emergency phase of the pandemic. But COVID isn’t going away. (As I write this, my spouse and two kids are recovering from the virus and have missed a week of work and school.) It may not kill you or make you sick enough to go to the hospital, especially if you’re vaccinated and boosted. But it’s still very much with us, and it can still give you Long COVID. (Vaccination helps prevent that, too.) So stock up on free tests while you can, and do your best to keep some around even after the PHE ends. We’re still going to need them.