The website was launched on 19 January and followed President Joe Biden’s announcement that the government would purchase half a billion at-home tests for free distribution to US households.
Americans with private medical insurance plans can also have the costs of up to eight over-the-counter at-home tests covered per month.
Under that plan, which took effect on 15 January, people who provide their insurance information to certain in-network pharmacies will be able to get their tests without paying any out-of-pocket costs.
Americans can order free tests from the federal website – covidtests.gov – or by calling a telephone hotline.
How to order free at-home from the website:
- From covidtests.gov, click “order free at-home tests”
- Enter contact information and shipping address
- Click “check out now”, review your information, and click “place my order”
How to get free tests through private insurance plans:
- Americans with private insurance plans can obtain at-home Covid tests with no out-of-pocket costs by walking into a pharmacy, retailer or online vendor within their network and submitting their insurance information.
- People who buy their kits at a provider that is not covered in their insurance network can still be reimbursed by up to $12 per test.
Rapid tests take roughly 15 minutes and are able to quickly detect virus proteins that trigger the production of antibodies, essentially signalling whether the person is contagious at that moment.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are generally more accurate but take longer to process.
At-home tests can also be expensive – tests can range from $10 to $35 – with out-of-pocket costs quickly adding up for families or people who need testing for work and other activities.
State and local governments have also sought to distribute or administer tests for free at public health centres, mobile testing sites, libraries, fire departments, and other sites.
After ordering tests from the government website, Americans living within the continental US will typically receive their tests seven to 12 days after placing their orders, which will be shipped via the US Postal Service.
According to a fact sheet distributed by the White House, the administration is prioritising the processing of orders to households “experiencing the highest social vulnerability” and those who live in communities that have borne a disproportionate share of Covid-19 cases and deaths, especially during the most recent surge caused by the Omicron variant.
The White House has said that the government bought 420 million tests “on an extremely rapid timetable” to be distributed by the Postal Service.
“While we are seeing record testing demand with Omicron … we're making great strides to increase our testing supply to meet this demand,” an administration official said.
The White House said on 28 January that 60 million households have ordered the free tests via the new site.
“Already tens of millions of tests have gone out the door and households around the country are already receiving tests so that people have tests on hand if need arises,” Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The White House has also stressed that the free Covid testing programme is only part of the Biden administration’s testing strategy. They’re also providing tests at more than 20,000 testing sites around the country.
Some people were blocked from ordering tests when the site was first launched, especially some of those living in apartment buildings, with the Postal Service saying the problem stemmed from the buildings not being registered as multi-unit residences.
Those experiencing issues can file a help request at the Postal Service website or call 1-800-ASK-USPS.
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