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Free COVID-19 test rollout begins early online

Website to order free COVID tests launches early
Website to order free COVID tests launches early 03:48

A day ahead of the scheduled rollout of free COVID-19 tests distributed by the Biden administration, some Americans are already placing orders for their free deliveries through a form posted by the U.S. Postal Service. 

The White House announced last week that it would publicly launch the site on Wednesday. However, some early visitors to the website Tuesday morning were already able to see a button to order their free tests — a limited rollout that appears to have been expanded to more visitors later Tuesday afternoon. 

"It will officially launch tomorrow morning. It's in the beta testing phase right now," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. 

Public interest in the site is already surging, leaving all other government websites far behind, according to data that tracks traffic to government sites. By early Tuesday afternoon, more than 500,000 users were visiting the test website.

The website is running at "limited capacity," a White House official said in a statement, as the government works to troubleshoot potential issues ahead of its formal launch Wednesday. 

An announcement added to the page on Tuesday afternoon said the administration has "tests for every residential address in the U.S." and urged Americans to "check back tomorrow if you run into any unexpected issues." 

Every household is eligible to order four rapid antigen COVID-19 tests for free, to be delivered by the Postal Service, which will begin shipping tests in late January. 

Some Americans were already able to order free at-home COVID-19 tests through the White House's program earlier this week, which granted 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," the NACHW's website says.

The White House also says it plans to launch a hotline that will allow Americans to order their own tests over the phone, if they have difficulty ordering on the website.

The administration says that its four-test limit was imposed "to promote broad access" to the program. It has also launched other efforts — including a requirement for private insurers to cover the cost of over-the-counter at-home tests — to help expand the distribution of needed tests. 

Federal health officials have expressed confidence in the Postal Service's ability to gather orders for tests 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," an administration official told reporters at a White House briefing last week

Orders of the COVID-19 tests will be delivered for free via first-class mail. Despite anecdotal reports of delayed shipments hampered by winter storms and COVID-19 outbreaks, the U.S. Postal Service claimed last week that 90% of first-class mail was delivered on time during 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," Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement.  

Some early users encountered issues when they tried to place an order on the website. Complaints popped up from users who said their residential address had been miscategorized as a business, and from residents of apartment buildings who were told someone had already ordered the tests allocated for their address. 

"The Postal Service is seeing very limited cases of addresses that are not registered as multi-unit buildings which could lead to COVID test kit ordering difficulties. This is occurring in a small percentage of orders," said a spokesperson in a statement.

The Postal Service says anyone who encounters problems should file a service request or call the customer service hotline: 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).

"Every website launch in our view comes with risk. We can't guarantee there won't be a bug or two, but the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success," said Psaki. 

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