If you live in Nova Scotia and want a COVID-19 rapid test, you can simply stroll down to your local public library to pick one up for free.

New Brunswick and Saskatchewan also offer free rapid testing kits free to the public. In Quebec, each resident will soon have access to five free tests every 30 days.

In Ontario, it’s a different story. Free rapid antigen test kits are available to businesses, and the province is sending schoolchildren home this holiday season with five tests each.

But most residents need to pay out of pocket to receive a rapid antigen test. Despite the province receiving 33 million rapid tests from the federal government to date, many of them remain unused.

The federal government says it has distributed 86 million rapid tests to the provinces so far, and plans to send 35 million more this month.

Many advocates have long been calling for more widespread distribution and use of the tests. Those calls are gaining urgency with the holidays approaching and the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surging.

Twitter accounts such as COVID-19 Test Finders share information on where and how to find rapid tests. With families planning holiday gatherings, experts say the tests can be one tool to help ensure people are gathering safely.

The test is not as accurate as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, considered the gold standard for COVID-19 testing. Rapid tests can be between 50 and 95 per cent accurate, depending on a number of factors. But the results come back in as little as 15 minutes.

There are three main ways to obtain rapid tests in Ottawa: get tested at a pharmacy, buy at-home testing kits online, or attend one of the limited holiday pop-up locations.

Buy tests online

If you’re looking to buy your own rapid tests online, price points vary.

The Canadian Shield sells five packs of tests for $49.95. The company’s 25-packs retail for $224.49, but they are sold out due to “extreme demand.” They will be available to buy after Dec. 26.

Abbott Panbio rapid tests are $218.75 for a 25-pack online.

Rapid Test & Trace is selling several kinds of rapid tests at various price points, ranging from $9 to $17 a test in various quantities.

Experts say it’s important to follow the instructions of the at-home tests closely. If you test positive, it should be considered a presumptive result. You’ll then need to go get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm that you have COVID-19.

Pharmacy testing

Shoppers Drug Mart offers rapid tests on site for $40 each, conducted by a pharmacist. You will need to book an appointment online.

Rexall offers the same service for $30, as does Walmart for $20. Appointments can be difficult to find as demand increases. The tests aren’t available to people who have symptoms of COVID-19.

Some Costco pharmacies in Ontario are doing rapid tests onsite, including the Barrhaven and Merivale Road locations in Ottawa.

Holiday pop-ups

The Ontario government launched a "holiday testing blitz", with up to two million rapid tests being provided for free at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings and at select LCBO stores.

The LCBO received test kits on Friday and quickly handed out its entire supply. 

Government officials tell CTV News Ottawa there are 10 locations in Ottawa pending local approval, including at malls and city centres.

One of them that has been approved is the Minto Barrhaven Recreation Centre at 3500 Cambrian Rd.

The tests will be available starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.