: ‘We can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two’: Biden administration’s website for free COVID-19 tests is going live — here’s everything you need to know

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Searching in vain to find at-home COVID-19 test kits at nearby pharmacies? Still scouring websites for potential deals and their expected delivery dates?

Wednesday, Jan. 19 marks an important date in that quest — or at least, that’s what the Biden administration hopes after it initially pledged 500 million free at-home test kits for Americans and recently doubled its pledge.

On Jan. 19, people can start placing their orders for the kits on COVIDtests.gov, the government site getting pulled together for the mass testing effort as the omicron variant continues to fuel cases. Each residential address gets one order, which consists of four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests.

Each residential address gets one order, which consists of four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests.

In fact, the site on Tuesday was already working “in a limited capacity ahead of its official launch,” according to a White House official. One link now brings users to a Postal Service link to provide addresses and optional email addresses. The site will formally launch at some point mid-morning on Wednesday, the official said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also noted Tuesday that the site is in its “beta phase” now, which is “a standard part of the process typically as it’s being kind of tested in the early stages of being rolled out.”

When it does launch, it’s a good bet that demand for the free test kits will be brisk.
Though there are signs the omicron variant’s impact may be peaking in northeastern states, case counts in other regions are soaring. Meanwhile, health insurers will now reimburse people on their costs for up to 8 test kits per month — but that means upfront costs from policyholders on kits that can range around $20 to $40, and sometimes go higher.

Here’s what to expect on the new website:

Where can I request these tests?

COVIDTests.gov is the starting point to make orders and a tab brings users to a U.S. Postal Service link where people can provide their shipping information. An email address is optional for people who want to track shipping notifications. The form does include a field for individual apartments.

How many can I get?

An order to an address is going to include four individual rapid antigen tests.

Keep in mind, health-insurance companies now have to abide by a separate reimbursement policy that began Jan. 15. In that case, a covered individual can get reimbursements on 8 tests per month. That means, for example, if a family of four is covered under a plan, 32 tests are eligible for reimbursement.

Last week, senior administration officials said they already had “tens of millions” of test kits immediately in-hand and ready to go. More than 420 million test kits of the 500 million pledge are formally earmarked for them in contracts with test makers, they said.

When can I get these tests?

The tests “will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering,” the White House has said. The kits will be mailed via first class.

The Post Office and its staff of 650,000 are ready for the job, said Postmaster General and CEO, Louis DeJoy. “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.”

Will the website crash?

The administration certainly hopes not. The U.S. Digital Service has been testing the site’s capacity, according to officials. The agency was formed after the launch of Healthcare.gov. The main online portal for Obamacare got off to a rocky 2013 start when many would-be users encountered site crashes.

“Every website launch in our view comes with risk,” Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. “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.”

Victor Reklaitis contributed to this report

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