White House soft launches COVID-19 test request website
On Tuesday, the Biden administration quietly launched its website for Americans to apply for free at-home COVID-19 testing, a day before the site was scheduled to go live.
The site, COVIDTests.gov, now includes a link for Americans to access orders run by the U.S. Postal Service. People can order up to four home tests for each residential address, delivered by the Postal Service. It marks the latest move by President Joe Biden to address criticism of low stocks and long lines of testing amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the site is in “beta testing” and is running at “limited capacity” ahead of its official launch. The site will officially launch mid-Wednesday morning, Psaki said.
There were separate reports Tuesday afternoon that the site’s address verification tool had incorrectly imposed a cap of four people per household on apartment buildings and other multi-unit dwellings, but it was unclear how widespread the problem was.
More than 750,000 people visited the site at the same time on Tuesday, according to public government tracking data, but it was unclear how many orders were made.
She added that the government expected “one or two mistakes”, but IT experts across the government were working to get the site ready.
Biden announced last month that the U.S. would buy 500 million home tests to kick-start the program, and on Thursday the president announced he was doubling the order to 1 billion tests.
But Americans shouldn’t expect a quick turnaround in the order, and they must plan ahead and request testing before meeting federal guidelines on when to use testing.
“Tests typically ship via USPS within 7-12 days of ordering,” the White House said, with the company reporting 1-3 days for its best-in-class package service in the continental U.S.
Officials stressed that the federal website is just one way for people to buy COVID-19 tests, and the shortage of home test kits has shown signs of easing as more supplies enter the market.
Since Saturday, private insurers have been required to cover the cost of rapid home tests, allowing Americans to be reimbursed for tests purchased at pharmacies and online retailers. This includes up to eight tests per month.
Digital Democracy director Alex Howard said the technical loophole that embarrassed President Barack Obama’s administration in the HealthCare.gov website launched in 2013 shouldn’t be a problem for the COVID-19 test kit website, in part because it’s so simple. Project, an open government watchdog organization. The new website is also simpler than the Vaccines.gov website — used to find nearby vaccine clinics and pharmacies — which the Biden administration successfully launched last year, Howard said.
Asking for someone’s address is a simple task, Howard said, especially compared to Obama-era health insurance sites that involved buying different health plans and verifying secure transactions. The challenge of hosting website applications under high demand is also a “solved problem” for the private sector, he said.
“My expectation is that American Digital Services and any provider they work with will be able to make that happen,” he said. “That’s the hardest part.”
Two tech companies that often work with the federal government — Microsoft and Accenture — referred questions about the site to the Postal Service on Tuesday. Amazon, the primary cloud provider for U.S. institutions, did not respond to a request for comment.
Howard said the trickiest part of the project wasn’t the website, but the physical distribution of the kit.
“I can’t remember the last time the federal government sent everyone something like this that wasn’t a tax document,” he said.
Possible challenges include multiple people ordering from the same apartment building address, or how to deal with people trying to play around with the system and order extra.
“I want my fellow Americans to be more trustworthy people,” Howard said, but given the other debates over COVID-19 protocols and responses, “it’s not going to be smooth.”