SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The scramble for COVID testing amid the Omicron surge is ongoing, but the federal government is looking to provide some relief in the form of free self-testing kits delivered to your home.
While it was scheduled to launch on Wednesday, Jan. 19, the new covidtests.gov website went live a day early on Tuesday. It will allow users to order four free testing kits per household.
The rapid antigen tests will be sent by mail within 7-12 days after ordering. All that's required is your name and address.
The government released the following statement regarding the availability of the site a day ahead of it's scheduled Jan. 19 launch.
"Today, in alignment with website launch best practices, covidtests.gov is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at limited capacity ahead of its official launch. This is standard practice to address troubleshooting and ensure as smooth of an official launch tomorrow as possible. We expect the website to officially launch mid-morning tomorrow."
The government has also provided an additional web page listing COVID testing resources.
While there are some indications that Omicron has reached its peak, some areas are still seeing an extremely high number of cases.
"I can say we're not increasing at a high rate. I'm not saying it's going down but the rate of increase is kind of flat," said UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.
While the positivity rate remains steady, Dr. Chin-Hong says the good news is that at least at UCSF, it hasn't seen an increase in hospitalizations in about a week.
But Dr. Monica Gandhi of UCSF is critical of the timing of the free giveaway and whether it's too late considering the current Omicron surge.
"We could have used them before, to be in school and in life, but we didn't have them," she said. "It's going to be too late by the time they come."
Pat Martel, a Napa resident countered, "It's way late but better late than never."
Napa County topped more than 1000 cases over a 7 day period for the first time since the early stages of the pandemic. Many residents feel the tests should have been available sooner.
"Two weeks ago, people couldn't get tests anywhere and I don't think Omicron will be the last we see of coronavirus," said Napa resident Michael Jeffery.
"I think the government should have been doing that before. Making it much more accessible for people to get tests," added Martel.
Health officials are also trying to better inform the public on when to get tested and what kind of test to take as long lines remain outside clinics and store shelves are empty of self-testing kits.
"We're seeing this whole thing just kind of stall," said San Francisco resident William Johnson of the testing dilemma.
If you have COVID, health experts say, a rapid antigen test is recommended towards the end of quarantine instead of a PCR test, which can be too sensitive, detecting trace amounts of virus, and can result in a false positive.
But if you've been exposed, the best test is a PCR. If you are symptomatic you can use either an at-home or PCR test.
Billions of tests are ready for distribution under the federal program. Health experts say even if the Omicron surge starts to fade, the need for the tests will remain.
"It is a little too late for Omicron but I would encourage everyone to keep it. There's still going to be Disease around," said Dr. Chin-Hong.
The first shipments of the tests should go out by the end of January.
Andrea Nakano contributed to this report.
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