5 things to know about ordering free COVID tests

·4 min read
Redondo Beach, CA - January 06: Boxes of iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test kits, provided by the state of California, are ready for parents to pick up, at Tulita Elementary School, as positive COVID-19 cases spike with the spread of the Omicron strain, in Redondo Beach, CA, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The federal government has created a website to order at-home COVID-19 tests. You can start ordering them today. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The federal website to order free rapid coronavirus tests went live on Tuesday, ahead of its scheduled Wednesday launch.

Covidtests.gov is an attempt by the Biden administration to remedy nationwide shortages of such at-home tests, with the president pledging the government will provide millions of such kits to Americans for free in coming months.

Here’s what you need to know about ordering at-home COVID-19 tests through the federal government's website:

1. The process is simple

The first thing to know: The website is already taking orders. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the website was in “beta testing” and operating at a “limited capacity” ahead of its official launch on Wednesday. She added that the administration was anticipating having to address a “bug or two."

I visited the site this morning — before Psaki confirmed it was taking orders — and was able to request free tests. I even received an email confirmation of my order.

All I did was visit https://www.covidtests.gov/, type in my name, email address and shipping address. I am scheduled to receive four rapid at-home COVID-19 antigen tests. You can opt to provide your email address to receive shipping updates. An order confirmation will also be sent to this email address.

The website will not process more than one order for the same address. If you try doing that, you will get this notification: "At-home COVID-19 tests have already been ordered for this address. Our records show that at-home COVID-19 tests have already been ordered for this address. We are unable to process duplicate orders for the same address."

My order confirmation:

A screenshot of my at-home COVID-19 test order.
A screenshot of my at-home COVID-19 test order. (Anumita Kaur)

2. Think a few weeks down the road

President Biden announced last month that his administration will push to deliver 500 million at-home tests amid criticism over his pandemic response and strained testing availability. Last week, he said that the administration will double the number to 1 billion tests. The administration has said the first batch of those orders will begin shipping late this month.

The federal government website limits each household to four tests, and there will be a wait to get them. Officials said tests will usually ship via the U.S. Postal Service within seven to 12 days.

Lindsey Dawson, associate director of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said people should think about whether they will need the tests in coming weeks and months.

"If you're going to school, if you're engaging with people outside your household, if you're using public transportation—there's a whole range of ways that people might be at risk for contracting COVID, so it makes sense to have some at home," Dawson said in an interview.

3. Don't take the tests for kicks

The Centers for Disease Control recommends using an at-home test if you have a fever, sore throat, runny nose, or loss of taste or smell.

The agency also recommends people take a test at least five days within having come into contact with someone with COVID-19 and before gathering with a group of people, especially those at risk for getting seriously sick.

4. Private insurances are required to reimburse for at-home tests, too

Four tests per address will not meet everyone's needs.

If a household requires more tests, people can buy them and get reimbursed by their private insurance carriers. Private insurance carriers are required to to reimburse the cost of up to eight tests per month.

5. Frequent testing does not replace other COVID-19 precautions

Dawson said testing is not enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. Such at-home tests "should be used in conjunction with other risk reduction strategies," including getting vaccinated and wearing masks in crowded or public settings, Dawson said.

Biden is expected to announce a plan this week to make high-quality face masks available for free. Public health experts have repeatedly warned that cloth masks do not provide enough protection against the more contagious Omicron variant, recommending that people wear N95 or KN95 masks.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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