: Biden administration’s website for free COVID-19 tests has gone live ahead of schedule — here’s everything you need to know

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Searching in vain to find at-home COVID-19 test kits at local 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 Wednesday the federal government’s COVIDtests.gov site formally becomes available for people to place orders for kits. The site was soft launched on Tuesday, and people were able to successfully and quickly get their kit orders in, as the omicron variant continues to fuel new cases at an elevated rate, even amid signs of hope that new cases and test positivity are now trending lower in many important population centers.

Each residential address can place one order to receive, for free, four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to be conducted at home.

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

The site on Tuesday was already working “in a limited capacity ahead of its official launch,” according to a White House official. Visitors arrive at a Postal Service link where they can provide mailing and and optional email addresses. COVIDtests.gov is slated to formally launch at some point midmorning on Wednesday, the official said.

“COVIDtests.gov is up and running early to help prepare for the full launch tomorrow. We have tests for every residential address in the U.S. Please check back tomorrow if you run into any unexpected issues,” the website said Tuesday afternoon.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki observed Tuesday that the site is in a “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. Here’s one indication: By Tuesday afternoon, more than 375,000 people were checking out the COVIDtests.gov site and more than 550,000 people were on the related U.S. Postal Service link, according to a federal site providing real-time analytics on web traffic to government agencies. The third most visited federally operated site — a U.S. Postal Service link — had almost 30,000 visitors.

Though there are signs the omicron variant’s impact may be peaking particularly in northeastern states, case counts in other regions are soaring.

Meanwhile, health insurers will now reimburse people on their costs for up to eight test kits per month — but that means upfront costs from policyholders on kits that can range $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 via notifications. The form does include a field for individual apartments.

There will be a phone line for people who do not have internet access or need extra help putting in their order, the White House has said. (Keep in mind that the feds aren’t the only ones distributing free at-home tests. A number of states and cities have distributed tests to their own residents.)

How many can I get?

An order shipped to a each home 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 eight 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.

The White House estimates there will be 375 million at-home tests on the market just in the month of January. For the week ending Jan. 1, people purchased more than 9.5 million over-the-counter COVID test kits in a seven-day span for $171.5 million, according to the market-research organization NielsenIQ.

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 mail.

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.”

Key Words (February 2021): ‘Get used to me’ — Louis DeJoy says he will stay at the USPS for a ‘long time

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 the Affordable Care Act, or “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

This article was originally published by Marketwatch.com. Read the original article here.

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