A day before it was scheduled to launch officially, the Biden administration quietly launched its website, offering free COVID-19 tests at home on Tuesday.
The White House announced last week that the site COVIDtests.gov would go live on Wednesday. The website was already offering free tests to a few visitors early Tuesday morning, but the service appeared to be expanded later in the afternoon to more visitors.
“It will officially launch tomorrow morning. It’s in the beta testing phase right now,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, told reporters.
According to tracking data on government websites, the site is already attracting unprecedented public interest, leaving all other government websites far behind. Over 500,000 users had already visited the test website by early Tuesday afternoon.
In an announcement on Tuesday afternoon, the Administration said tests could be provided for every residential address in the U.S. and urged Americans to check back again if unexpected issues arise.
Households can order four rapid antigen COVID-19 tests for free, which will be delivered by the Postal Service in late January. Although it might not be enough to keep Americans safe for long, it is a welcome help for those who desperately need Covid-19 tests.
Earlier this week, some Americans could order free COVID-19 tests through the White House’s program, which gave priority access through a portal launched with the National Association of Community Health Workers for people living in “high-risk” zip codes.
“Orders will be prioritized for equitable distribution based on communities that are hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” NACHW says on its website.
If Americans have trouble ordering online, the White House says it plans to launch a hotline that will allow them to call in their tests over the phone.
Despite the four-test limit, the Administration claims it imposed the limit to ensure broad access to the program. In addition, it has taken other steps – including requiring private insurers to pay for over-the-counter at-home testing – to expand access to needed tests.
Federal health officials said they had confidence in the Postal Service’s ability to fulfill orders for testing and accommodate a possible surge in demand.
“We didn’t start from scratch. The Postal Service is an important partner here. They already have a website that does sell goods to the public and has for quite some time,” a White House official said at a briefing.
First-class mail will be used to deliver the COVID-19 tests. Anecdotal reports report that winter storms and COVID-19 outbreaks delayed some shipments, but the U.S. Postal Service claims 90 percent of first-class mail was delivered on time the first week of January.
“The 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service are ready to deliver and proud to play a critical role in supporting the health needs of the American public. We have been working closely with the Administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits on the first day the program launches,” said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
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