BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Testing for COVID-19 is a big part of stopping the spread of the virus, but experts say knowing when to test, especially with at home tests, is key.

Wednesday, all U.S. households will be able to order four free COVID-19 at home test kits. This comes as the omicron variant continues to put a strain on testing sites.

“I’m optimistic that we are getting through the worst of omicron right now. I think this week is going to be our worst week or the time when it starts to retreat,” said Dr. Michael Saag. “Then going into February we should start to see a dramatic decrease in the number of cases.”

UAB Top Infectious Disease expert Dr. Michael Saag said at home kits are a great resource but results can vary.

“Sometimes it will miss a very early infection. And the reason for that is, especially people who have been vaccinated, their immune system recognizes the infection right away and starts to attack,” he said. “So it could be that that attack happens early before the virus has really revved up.”

Saag said if you start getting symptoms, you should wait a day before testing to get a more accurate reading.

“If you have a little scratchy throat or the beginnings of a runny nose, wait and let it declare itself just a little bit more. Give it 12 hours. You’ll know if you have COVID. You’ll start to progress and then you can go ahead and do the test,” he said.

He also suggested retesting if you get a negative result and symptoms continue to progress.

“If you have symptoms and you tested kind of early, then you might wait another day and if the symptoms are very consistent with COVID, go ahead and use another test, test again or you could wait another day,” said Saag.

Dr. Saag said vaccines and masks are still the best ways to prevent infections.

If you would like to order your free at home COVID-19 testing kits click here.