WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s new website allowing people to order up to four free at-home coronavirus tests quietly went live on Tuesday — a day in advance of its formal launch — and demand already appeared to be significant.
A combined total of more than 1 million visitors were on the home page and the ordering page of covidtests.gov at one point Tuesday evening — more than 40 times as many as were on the government site with the next highest traffic, the U.S. Postal Service’s package-tracking page, according to analytics.usa.gov, which monitors traffic on participating federal websites.
At a White House news conference on Tuesday, President Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the official launch would take place on Wednesday morning, but that the site had begun taking orders during what she described as a “beta testing phase” conducted by the U.S. Digital Service, the government’s technology support division.
Also on Wednesday, the White House will announce that it is making 400 million “high quality,” nonsurgical N95 masks available, free of charge, at community health centers and retail pharmacies across the nation. The masks will be released from the Strategic National Stockpile, officials said, calling the effort the “largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.”
These moves are evidence that the Biden administration is trying increase its coronavirus defense as Omicron variant is driving a spike in cases throughout the nation. The administration at first resisted the idea of sending tests to Americans’ homes, but it has now enlisted the U.S. The Postal Service handles orders and deliveries.
But it wasn’t long before the pilot testing revealed some apparent glitches.
People who live in apartments claimed that they were prevented from ordering tests if another tenant had requested the same building. Many people who receive their mail at post offices also reported confusion when ordering. The site contains a disclaimer that states that orders will only be shipped to valid residential addresses.
In a statement, the Postal Service said the problems were confined to “a small percentage of orders” and recommended that customers file a service request or contact the Postal Service help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
It was still frustrating for those who couldn’t order. Gina Lindo (46), ordered four tests from the federal website Tuesday afternoon and requested that they be sent to her Long Island single-family home. Ms. Lindo attempted to order tests from her parents, who reside in Queens. However, she received an error message.
“Home Covid-19 tests have already been ordered for this address,” the message read. “We are unable to process duplicate orders for the same address.”
Ms. Lindo claimed that she called her mother right away to confirm that she had ordered the tests. They found out that the upstairs neighbor had ordered the tests.
“They haven’t been able to get tests, they are sold out everywhere,” Ms. Lindo said. “I know it’s probably a line in the code on the USPS website that needs to be changed, but I really do hope that they change it quickly so that we can order the tests.”
She said that her mother teaches English at a senior center once per week and she wants to take home tests regularly because of that. She and Ms. Lindo’s father, who are both in their 70s, also hope to take home tests before their grandson’s upcoming 16th birthday party, and before upcoming appointments with their doctors.
Biden has had to deal with failed website rollouts. He was vice president when President Barack Obama launched healthcare.gov, an online marketplace for health-insurance. Jeff Zients, who is now Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, was brought in to rescue the troubled site, which crashed repeatedly under a crush of early users. In the wake of this disaster, the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) was created.
The Coronavirus Pandemic – Key Facts to Know
Covidtests.gov is also available in Spanish. Visitors can click through to a Postal Service website to order four tests per household for free. The website states that orders are usually shipped within seven to twelve days.
“We can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two,” Ms. Psaki said, “but the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success.”
Both the Trump and Biden administrations have struggled to match testing demand with supply. Mr. Biden has been criticised for not increasing the supply of quick at-home tests fast enough, as Americans struggled for testing after the Omicron variant was introduced.
Experts recommend that people test at-home if they experience symptoms of Covid-19, if they have been exposed to someone with the virus for five or more days, or if they plan to gather indoors to check on someone at higher risk.
Omicron has created a significant strain on both the in-home and laboratory supply of Omicron tests. Shortly after Thanksgiving, rapid tests began to disappear from pharmacy shelves. Long lines were seen at clinics for polymerase-chain reaction (or P.C.R.) tests.
Biden’s administration responded to this by ordering that a million at-home tests be distributed free to the public in two 500-million-unit batches. Officials from the administration have stated that the second batch will not become available until the spring.
The administration also offers free rapid tests at rural health clinics and community health centers. Private insurance customers can now request reimbursement for any tests they purchase. While the insurance companies will have to cover eight at home tests per person per month (some say it could take some time to implement the reimbursement system), they will have to cover them all.
Source: NY Times