WASHINGTON — You can now order four at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government to be shipped directly to your door.
Wednesday marks the launch of the Biden administration's initiative to get more tests into the hands of Americans as the highly contagious omicron variant surges across the country.
These tests have been in short supply in recent weeks, with demand driven up by holiday travel and a rising wave of infections and possible contacts with the omicron variant.
A separate link, special.usps.com/testkits, went live Tuesday in a "beta testing phase" of the site ahead of Wednesday's launch, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed.
At points Tuesday more than 750,000 people were accessing the website at the same time, according to public government tracking data, but it was not immediately known how many orders were placed.
The federal government is limiting the number of tests any household can order due to projected high demand. Four tests can be shipped per household, not per person.
The White House said when announcing this plan that more tests could go out at some point to each household, but that depends on supply.
There were isolated reports Tuesday afternoon of problems relating to the website’s address verification tool erroneously enforcing the four-per-household cap on apartment buildings and other multi-unit dwellings.
A spokesperson for the Postal Service said in a statement that the error was “occurring in a small percentage of orders.” He said any user needing assistance could file a service request at emailus.usps.com/s/the-postal-store-inquiry or contact a help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
But these tests are not designed to be shipped out to your house once you start feeling sick.
The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the U.S. Postal Service.
Americans will need to request the tests well before they meet the guidelines for requiring them since USPS shipping times are at least 1-3 days. The tests should be ordered and kept until somebody in your household starts to feel sick with COVID-like symptoms.
Those symptoms include fever, sore throat, respiratory issues and muscle aches.
You should also be tested a few days after you've had close contact with somebody who has contracted COVID-19.
If you don't want to wait until the tests are shipped to your home, you can pick some up at a pharmacy under your insurance.
As of Jan. 15, private insurers were required by the Biden administration to cover the cost of up to eight at-home rapid tests per month, per insured person.
People seeking to take that option can buy the tests themselves, then seek reimbursement from their insurance provider. Although there are reportedly plans in the works between insurers and pharmacies to cover the out-of-pocket costs of getting a test, those plans have not found widespread traction yet.
The Biden administration also announced Wednesday they will begin distributing 400 million N95 masks from the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile starting next week.
The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government's COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program, including the sort of masks to be provided, whether kid-size ones will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.
The mask giveaway is the largest by the federal government since the pandemic begin in early 2020. As omicron cases mounted, the Biden administration took criticism about the lack of accessibility of masks.
The masks, which the CDC recommends over cloth masks, have been difficult to find or prohibitively expensive — often both.
With real masks inaccessible to many Americans, fake ones have made their way into the country to fill the gaps. These masks don't offer the same protection as actual N95 masks but appear to be the same at first glance.
The idea to supply Americans with masks from the national stockpile is not a new one. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump's administration considered but ultimately shelved a plan to send N95 masks to all American homes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report