The Biden administration launched COVIDTests.gov on Tuesday, the website Americans can use to request free at-home rapid COVID tests mailed to their doorsteps, one day ahead of its scheduled official launch.
The early launch is to prepare for a smooth debut on the day most Americans are expecting it, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday, and catch any issues with the site before its formal rollout.
Psaki called it "beta testing." But the website is still live for anyone who chooses to try it Tuesday and the orders will be processed.
People are able to order four tests per household through the website. They will be shipped out 7-12 days after they’re ordered via first class mail.
That means the first free tests won’t reach Americans until late January or early February, which will be too late to blunt the peak of omicron cases in many parts of the country. Still, the plan will allow Americans to have free tests on-hand in the coming weeks and months.
All that people need to enter on the site to receive a test is a name and an address. The White House will also launch a call line for people who don't have computer access.
Another 500 million tests will eventually also be available, bringing the total to 1 billion free at-home tests distributed to Americans, but the White House hasn’t announced a timeline for the second batch of tests.
And more immediately, starting last Saturday, people are also able to get up to eight tests per month reimbursed through insurance if they go out and purchase them on their own, either online or at stores.
"In the first couple of days, we're encouraging people to just make sure you keep your receipts as the systems are getting up online," a senior administration official said on Friday.
The White House is also incentivizing insurers to work with retailers and offer the tests for free up-front for people who show their insurance cards, similar to how prescriptions might be covered at the pharmacy. Those partnerships between insurers and retailers are still in the works.
This is on top of 50 million free at-home tests that have been doled out to community health centers around the country and 20,000 free testing sites.
Taken together, it all signifies a clear effort on behalf of the administration to increase the testing supply after omicron caught the government off guard.
The myriad testing options now in full swing will also likely take the pressure off the website as it officially launches on Wednesday, particularly as cases begin to fall in some northeastern areas.
Less demand will give the White House time to finish contracting all 500 million tests.
Currently, the White House only has tens of millions of tests on hand, a senior administration official confirmed Friday.
They’ve secured another 400 million or so that are still being manufactured and delivered.
But senior administration officials last week said they were confident they would be able to get tests sent out to any American who ordered one within their shipping timeline of 7-12 days.
"We're confident that with our contracting speed, which is very fast, with the ones we have on hand, and the timeline we're laying out today, that we can meet all of our timelines and get these to Americans that want them," a senior administration official said.
The tests will be sent via the U.S. Postal Service as first class mail.
The tests will not necessarily be of use to Americans who were exposed and want to take a test within the first 5 days of exposure, or come down with symptoms and want to test immediately, since they'll take more than 7-12 days to arrive.
But senior administration officials ran through the host of other testing options Americans can use in those scenarios and defended this program as one "designed to ensure that Americans have at-home rapid tests on hand in the weeks and months ahead, as they have a need."
The officials also said they were "ready" to meet demand and prevent any website crashes, as seen during former President Barack Obama’s launch of Healthcare.gov, which was overseen at the time by the current White House COVID Coordinator Jeff Zients.
"Of course, every website launch poses some risks, we are quite cognizant of that. But we have the best tech teams" across the administration, an official said. "So we're ready for this and we're ready for Americans to start ordering their tests on January 19."