The U.S. government website to order free at-home COVID-19 tests in this latest coronavirus surge fueled by the omicron variant appears to be up and running Tuesday, a day earlier than the White House announced on Friday.
The website COVIDtests.gov accepted information provided by a Free Press reporter to receive the tests in a process that took just a couple of minutes to complete online. The website is written in English, with the option to read it in Spanish.
A notice on the website later Tuesday stated the website was up and running early to help prepare for the full launch Wednesday.
"We have tests for every residential address in the U.S. Please check back (Wednesday) if you run into any unexpected issues."
The website had hundreds of thousands of hits by early Tuesday evening, according to analytics.usa.gov.
Here are some answers to your basic questions:
What am I supposed to get when I place an order?
Every residential home in the U.S.,including U.S. territories and overseas military and diplomatic addresses, is eligible for one set of four, free at-home COVID-19 tests.
An order includes four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests that are authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the website. You cannot choose the brand you order.
When will the tests arrive?
Orders usually will ship in seven to 12 days, starting in late January.
How will the tests arrive?
They will arrive through the U.S. Postal Service. To get help with a delivery issue, contact the postal service.
How do I order?
Click on the blue "order free at-home tests" link. It will take you to a page with a form to fill out with contact information for the person placing the order (first and last names and email address if you want to receive shipping notifications) and shipping information (first and last names and complete address).
Click the green "check out now" button in the order summary box.
The next screen allows you to review your order, including contact and shipping information (complete with edit function). The order summary box lists subtotal, shipping and handling and total, but all of the lines show no cost.
Click the green "place my order" button.
The next screen pops up with a lengthy order number containing numbers and letters, stating the order has been placed. The screen also showed the contact and shipping information and order summary box — again indicating there was no cost or shipping and handling fees. A note at the top of this screen said COVID-19 tests will start shipping in late January and that the postal service will only send one set of four free at-home COVID-19 tests to valid residential addresses.
If you provided an email address, you should receive an email confirmation from the U.S. Postal Service stating you'll receive a tracking number and updates on the expected delivery date once the package ships.
The email states the postal service is unable to process duplicate orders for the same address. The email included order details (order number, when the order was placed, status, email address, shipping details and a total listing the test and shipping and handling — again at no cost).
Note, the email that went to the Free Press reporter landed in the promotions folder, not the main or primary folder, of the reporter's email. So you may have to look in your other email folders if you don't find the email in your main or primary folder.
Tell me more about the tests:
The tests are rapid antigen tests, not PCR tests. They can be taken anywhere, give results within 30 minutes and require no lab drop-off, according to the federal government website.
The tests work whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms or are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. They're also referred to as self-tests or over-the-counter tests.
President Joe Biden's administration is buying 1 billion at-home, rapid tests to give to Americans for free. A half-billion tests will be available for order starting this week. No identification, credit card or health insurance information is required to order the tests.
What if I don't have internet access?
In a fact sheet Friday, the administration said it will launch a call line to help those who are unable to access the website to place orders and work with national and local community-based organizations to support the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities to request tests. However, a Free Press reporter did not find a phone number on the website Tuesday evening.
What else is on the website?
It provides instructions on when to take an at-home test and what it means if you test positive or negative with links to U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidance on isolation and self-testing.
It encourages people to get up to date with their vaccinations and provides the vaccines.gov link to find a vaccine or booster near you; to wear a well-fitting mask when gathering indoors, and to maintain 6 feet of distance between people.
It lists resources for people who are looking for another type of COVID-19 test or who need more than four tests.
It includes a link to the more than 20,000 free antigen and PCR testing sites across the country by state on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, as well as information about insurance reimbursement for eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month for each person on the plan, an initiative that began Saturday.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged residents to take advantage of the free tests, saying it will make it easier for people to get tested. Testing demands are high as cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise.
“Testing in addition to getting vaccinated and wearing masks are extremely effective tools in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department.
“We are grateful for the efforts the federal government is taking to make testing easy and accessible for all Michiganders. We hope all households in our state will take advantage of this resource.”
In addition to the federal testing program, the state health department announced Friday it was providing free, at-home COVID-19 test kits to residents in an effort to help underserved areas of the state.
Nearly 5,500 test kits were shipped to 18 libraries across Michigan in a pilot project. The kits went to libraries in Calhoun, Clare, Newaygo, Oceana and Saginaw counties and the cities of Detroit and Taylor in Wayne County.
Each of the library locations received 300 at-home kits that contain one test. Additional kits will be shipped to these locations as needed and more libraries will be added to the distribution in the coming weeks, the state health department said.
State health department data on Friday showed Michigan had about 18,557 confirmed cases of the coronavirus each day on Thursday and Friday, and 4,579 adults and 117 children were hospitalized with a confirmed case of the virus.
The data was not updated Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The next update will be Wednesday.
Contact Christina Hall: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: COVIDtests.gov is live early: How to order COVID-19 tests