Morningside and Manhattanville Students: A Guide to At-Home COVID-19 Tests

February 22, 2022

Dear Students,

In light of the broader availability of self-tests, “at home,” or “over-the-counter” tests through the U.S. government or health insurance plans, I write to share guidance on when to use such tests and how to access FDA-authorized at-home tests.

When to use at-home tests

  1. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, take a test immediately.
  2. If you are asymptomatic AND are a close contact of a known or probable COVID-19 case, take a test 5-7 days after your last exposure.
  3. If you are participating in an activity with high risk of virus transmission, take a test 24-48 hours prior and 3-5 days after the activity.


To use the self-test effectively, make sure you follow the instructions exactly; perform the steps in the order that they are listed; and read the result at the specified time interval. The manufacturer may also provide quick reference guides or instructional videos to help you perform the test correctly.

Visit the COVID-19 website for additional detail on the use of at-home tests and recommended next steps based on your results, for instance, in what situation a PCR test would be warranted after taking an at-home test.

How to get no-cost, at-home tests

  1. Utilize your insurance plan for an FDA-authorized test
    • Students on the Columbia Student Health Insurance Plan can learn more about purchasing, reimbursement, and no out-of-pocket cost options for at-home test kits on the Columbia Health website.
    • Students who are not on the Columbia Plan should contact their insurance provider for details about how to obtain tests with no out-of-pocket costs or submit for reimbursement for their at-home tests.
  2. Order through covidtests.gov. Households may be eligible to receive 4 free FDA-authorized at-home tests. You may also order by phone at 1-800-232-0233. Students living in undergraduate residence halls may experience challenges in ordering to their campus address. Columbia is working with the US Postal Service to resolve this issue.

The widespread availability of at-home tests, as well as mass and mobile testing centers for both PCR and antigen testing particularly in New York City, is another crucial tool in our collective efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I encourage you to access these resources to help keep yourself and our community safe. Please continue to adhere to our public health measures (including indoor masking at all times on campus) as well as participation, when required, in the Columbia COVID-19 surveillance testing program.

Be well,
Melanie Bernitz, M.D., M.P.H.
Senior Vice President, Columbia Health      
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (in the Center for Family and Community Medicine)