COVID-19 testing and vaccinations

Are COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatments still free?

The federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration ended on May 11, marking an important shift in the nation’s pandemic response. It will be a while longer, however, before anything changes dramatically regarding COVID care and prevention for people living in Oakland, Berkeley, and elsewhere in the state. 

SB 510, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2021, requires health care providers in California to continue covering the costs of COVID-related testing, vaccination, and treatment, even in the absence of a federal order. But there will be some changes at the local level, and tracking pandemic policies and available resources for prevention and treatment can be tricky. 

We compiled the most recent COVID data for Alameda County, alongside answers to some basic questions about what people in the East Bay can expect now that the federal emergency order has expired.

Cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in Alameda County

Case rates in Alameda County have plummeted since peaks earlier in the pandemic and this winter, but the virus is still present in the county, recording between 67 and 70 cases a day. The daily average for hospitalizations hovers at 50 people, with around seven in the ICU.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 2,162 people have died of COVID-19 in Alameda County, including 623 in Oakland and 74 in Berkeley. At the pandemic’s peak, during the winter surge of 2021, over 80 people were dying each day countywide. Deaths have dropped considerably in the two years since, and daily fatalities have remained in the single digits in 2023.

About 94% of people in Alameda County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 87% are fully vaccinated. About 96% of Berkeley residents and 85% of Oakland residents are fully vaccinated.

Complete up-to-date county data on COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccination rates can be found here

Are test kits at pharmacies still covered by insurance?

As of May 11, the government is no longer mailing COVID-19 at-home tests. 

Over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits at pharmacies are not required to be covered by insurance federally, but state legislation in California is continuing payments for these tests for at least six more months. In November, reimbursements will only be required for in-network providers of at-home tests. Check with your insurance provider to make sure they are considered in-network.

Most people with Medicare and other types of health insurance are also still covered for laboratory-conducted COVID-19 tests. 

For people with private insurance

Under California law, those enrolled in a health care plan will continue to receive PCR testing, vaccines, and up to eight at-home testing kits per month, free of charge. The free resources will continue as long as COVID services are provided through their health care network. For example, Kaiser members can order up to eight tests per month, in person or via mail. 

For those with Medi-Cal and Medicare

Medi-Cal beneficiaries will continue to receive COVID testing, vaccines, and treatments free of charge while the federal supplies last.

A pandemic-era provision that required continuous coverage for all Medi-Cal recipients ended on March 31. As a result, some current members may lose their coverage by July 1, 2023, if they don’t renew. Beneficiaries should have already received their renewal paperwork in the mail. More information is available online.

Vaccines, treatments and at-home tests will also remain free for most Medicare patients. However, PCR testing will only be covered when ordered by a health care provider. Those with only Medicare Part A (hospital-based care) will no longer have access to the free at-home test kits.

Underinsured and uninsured residents will continue to be able to get vaccines free of charge as long as there’s a national stockpile.

For those who are underinsured or uninsured

Some community testing sites are shifting their services from providing free testing for everyone to focusing on only those who are underinsured or uninsured. The testing sites linked below will provide services regardless of immigration status.

  • In Oakland, Color Health is operating seven community testing sites, for people who are either symptomatic or were exposed to someone with the virus. The hours vary by location
  • La Clínica de la Raza is currently only testing underinsured and uninsured patients. PCR tests, as well as at-home test kits, are free for this group. Register on Clinica’s website for testing site locations and hours.
  • Roots Community Health Center in East Oakland is open to all members of the public on Thursdays and Fridays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic offers both antigen and PCR testing. Roots also provide the Pfizer, Moderna, and Novanax COVID-19 vaccines, and the bivalent booster. Pre-register online or register on-site.
  • The Alameda County Public Health Department also has a list of community sites across the county that offer antigen and PCR testing, COVID-19 treatments, and vaccines. 

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