May 27, 2022
If you're planning a wedding or another event in Philadelphia, you may be able to get free, at-home COVID-19 tests for your guests. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has created a rapid test kit distribution program for a range of special events including weddings, community festivals, graduations, funeral gatherings and end of life celebrations, among others.
With COVID-19 restrictions largely lifted in Philadelphia, the health department still encourages people to take precautions around social gatherings. That's especially true for unmasked events held in indoor settings at a time of year when weddings and other occasions are ramping up.
Since access to COVID-19 testing remains a barrier for many people, the health department is prepared to provide rapid test kits to event organizers who have filled out and submitted applications at least two weeks in advance of their events.
The online application form includes questions about the event, such as a description of the event space and the number of guests expected to attend. Guests in vulnerable populations, such as seniors and those with underlying medical conditions, will be prioritized in the review of applications. Event organizers also will be asked about their plans to distribute the test kits and whether instructions will be required in different languages.
"The health department is concerned about any event when large groups get together where masking can be lax," spokesperson Matthew Rankin said. "Anytime people are eating and drinking makes it hard to wear a mask and there is the potential for infection."
For events that are approved by the health department, two rapid tests will be available per each guest. There is no cap on the number of tests for an event.
The health department recommends that guests use one test right before they come to the event and the second test 3-5 days afterward. If tests are given out at the event, guests should test themselves 3-5 days afterward and at least 24 hours apart, or whenever they feel COVID-19 symptoms.
The health department said it has about 20,000 test kits on hand and has the ability to resupply.
COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia have spiked over the last month due to the spread of the omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1, which this week became the dominant variant in the United States. As of Monday, Philadelphia had averaged 400 cases per day over the prior two weeks. Hospitalizations had risen to 142 as of May 20, nearly double the total from three weeks prior.
During earlier stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 testing before weddings and other events was a more common requirement. That has shifted to vaccination requirements, among those who choose to enforce them. Rapid tests typically are not provided by venues or wedding organizers.
A spokesperson for Cescaphe, one of Philadelphia's largest wedding and event planners, said that testing arrangements are the responsibility of hosts, should they decide to request or require negative tests from guests. Many event organizers choose not to have requirements because they want as many people as possible to attend, and instead encourage guests to practice good judgment about their health before attending.
Now that there are no restrictions on events, the health department is making test kits available in order to help event organizers and guests make informed decisions before and after attendance.
The free test kit program will give priority to events involving communities that have historically had less access to health care resources, including areas with lower vaccination rates, higher case rates and limited testing options or health care services. Priority also will be given to events that pose the highest risks of COVID-19 transmission based on the descriptions provided in applications.
Due to limited supply, some events won't be able to receive testing kits. Those who have their applications approved will be notified by email to arrange an opportunity to pick up test kits. It is the responsibility of the event host to distribute the tests. Planning is necessary if the tests are to be giving to guests in advance of the event, which is why it's best to submit an application as early as possible.
Anyone who feels COVID-19 symptoms before an event is advised to stay home. The health department is continuing to strongly encourage mask use in indoor spaces, especially at special events this summer.
People who test positive using these kits are not required to report their results to the health department. They should contact their regular health care providers to inquire about treatment options.