While many managed to place orders for their free home COVID test kits on Tuesday, the government’s official testing website is set to launch on Wednesday.
How much can you order, what tests will be sent to you, and when will you actually receive them?
Here’s a breakdown of what to know ahead of the official website launch:
WHEN AND HOW CAN YOU ORDER YOUR FREE COVID TEST KITS?
The new federal website, covidtests.gov, to apply for free test kits was due to launch on Wednesday, with the first shipments to Americans by the end of the month.
But by late Tuesday morning, many users reported that they had already been able to place their orders.
A White House spokesperson confirmed that the site launched in “beta stage” on Tuesday and was “running at limited capacity ahead of its official launch,” which remains scheduled for Wednesday.
“This is standard practice to resolve issues and ensure the official launch is as smooth as possible,” the spokesperson told NBC News. “We expect the website to officially launch mid-morning [Wednesday].”
DO YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR SHIPPING?
“Testing will be completely free – there are no shipping costs and you don’t need to enter a credit card number,” the website says.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RECEIVE THE TESTS?
The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” via the US Postal Service. USPS reports 1-3 day shipping times for its First Class Parcel Service in the continental United States. Shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO), and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) addresses will be sent via Priority Mail.
Importantly, given shipping and processing times, Americans will need to request the tests long before they meet federal guidelines to require testing.
HOW MANY TESTS CAN I ORDER ON THE WEBSITE?
The White House says that “to promote broad access,” shipments of covidtests.gov will initially be limited to four rapid tests per residential address, regardless of the number of occupants.
WHAT IF I HAVE MORE THAN 4 PEOPLE IN A HOME?
According to the website, the limit will remain at four per residential address.
“To promote broad access, the initial program will allow only 4 free individual tests per residential address,” the site says.
WHAT HOME TEST WILL I GET?
It will vary. The federal government has already secured more than 420 million tests to distribute through covidtests.gov, with plans to increase the order to 1 billion tests in the coming weeks. All tests provided will be cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and are capable of detecting the most transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19, which is the dominant strain in the United States. Although they are packaged differently and may use slightly different procedures, according to officials, the detection and effectiveness testing mechanisms are generally the same. All tests will come with detailed instructions.
CAN I CHOOSE WHICH TEST I DO?
According to the site, people won’t be able to choose which brand of home tests they will receive, but “all tests distributed under this program are FDA-cleared rapid home antigen tests.”
WHAT IF MY SHIPMENT NEVER ARRIVES?
The government says people who have problems with their test submissions should contact the USPS.
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY REPORTED ISSUES SO FAR?
There were isolated reports Tuesday afternoon of issues with the website’s address verification tool that mistakenly enforces the four-per-household cap on apartment buildings and other multi-unit dwellings. A Postal Service spokesperson said in a statement that the error “occurs in a small percentage of orders.” He said that any user in need of assistance can file a service request at emailus.usps.com/s/the-postal-store-inquiry or contact a helpline at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki added that the administration was anticipating a “bug or two,” but computer experts across the government were working to prepare the site.
Abigail Echohawk, an epidemiologist with the Seattle Indian Health Board, says there are also other potential issues for residents of rural communities and those with limited internet access.
“If we rely solely on the internet, we’re going to see those in rural areas and those on reservations not being able to get the same access to information,” she said. “And that will continue to fuel the inequity of the impact of COVID-19.”
The government says a phone number will be set up, so residents can order their tests over the phone, but it’s unclear when that service will be available.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TEST FOR COVID?
The CDC says anyone who may have been exposed to someone with COVID should be tested five days after exposure or as soon as symptoms appear.
“If symptoms appear, individuals should immediately self-quarantine until a negative test confirms the symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19,” the guidelines state.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said incubation times could change, but those who test early should continue testing even if they test negative.
“We may be learning that the incubation time could be a bit shorter. So maybe you would test at two days,” Ezike said. “Obviously, if you’re symptomatic, you test straight away. But you know, if you want to test at two days, but that negative test… the two days shouldn’t make you think, ‘Oh well, I’m clear,’ you know?You might want to test again and of course symptoms that you can’t ignore – scratchy throat, headaches, all kinds of symptoms – anything new can be a symptom of this new disease.
IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO GET A TEST KIT FOR FREE?
Starting last weekend, private insurers are required to cover the cost of up to eight rapid home tests per month per insured person, according to a new Biden administration rule.
People have the option of buying tests in a store or online and then claiming reimbursement from their health insurance fund. Insurers are being encouraged to work with pharmacies and retailers to develop plans to cover the cost of testing with no out-of-pocket to customers, but these programs won’t be rolled out immediately.
Those with public health insurance through Medicare, or without insurance, will be directed to covidtests.gov to order tests or to community health centers in their area offering free testing.
HOW WILL I BE REIMBURSED?
The Biden administration says procedures will differ from insurer to insurer, and it encourages Americans to save receipts from rapid test purchases for later reimbursement and to contact their insurers for information.
Crucially, the requirement only covers purchases made on or after January 15. Insurers are not expected to retroactively reimburse the cost of tests purchased earlier.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER TESTING OPTIONS?
The Biden administration stresses that the website is just a tool for Americans to access COVID-19 testing. Millions of free tests are available at participating pharmacies, community health centers and Federal Emergency Management Agency-supported sites in parts of the country experiencing an increase in cases.
WHY IS BIDEN BUYING THESE TEST KITS?
It represents an acknowledgment by the president that the administration must do more to increase access to COVID-19 testing, which is an important tool to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In cases where infected people show symptoms or not, testing is the only way to know if they have the virus so they can avoid being on the go and potentially spreading the disease.
Demand for test kits skyrocketed as the holidays approached and people became eager to test themselves and their families before traveling and as the omicron variant spread rapidly in just weeks to become the dominant strain in the United States.
Biden’s pledge of 1 billion test kits adds to the administration’s earlier commitment to send 50 million rapid tests to community health centers across the country.
HOW MUCH WILL THE PROGRAM COST?
The White House estimates the cost of procuring and distributing the first 500 million tests at around $4 billion. That will be paid for with money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Biden signed into law in March.
DOES THE GOVERNMENT PROGRAM MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR ME TO FIND A DRUG TEST?
White House officials say the covidtests.gov tests come from new manufacturing capacity and should not interfere with existing supplies relied on by pharmacies, health clinics and state governments.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU TEST POSITIVE USING A HOME TEST?
Those who test positive using a home test are urged to follow the latest CDC guidelines and report results to their healthcare provider, who is responsible for reporting test results to the Department of Health. state health.
According to the Chicago Area Health Department, people should assume test results are accurate and should self-isolate from others to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
“If you test positive for COVID-19, you should self-isolate,” Arwady said. “There’s no need to repeat a positive test at home in a medical setting. We don’t want people going to the emergency room just to get tested. Treat a positive as a positive, stay home and self-isolate. you for five days.”