The Biden administration launched its website for ordering at-home COVID tests without fanfare on Tuesday, a day before it was scheduled to officially open.
The website, COVIDTests.gov, includes a link for Americans to order up to four tests per residential address, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Although it is a central part of President Joe Biden‘s pandemic response, it still means families of four or more, or people in need of urgent results will have to look for other sources of tests.
And the packs will not start shipping until late in the month.
During her regular briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the site was operating at limited capacity.
‘It will officially launch tomorrow morning,’ she said.
‘It’s in the beta testing phase right now.’
The Biden administration opened its website for free at-home tests without fanfare on Tuesday
USers who need a COVID-19 test now, or need more than four tests, are directed elsewhere
The site offers advice for people on when and how to best use the tests
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it was undergoing ‘beta testing’ head of an official launch on Wednesday
Traffic to the site surged as news of the soft launch spread, hitting as many 750,000 users and representing more than half of all traffic to administration websites at one point.
But with COVID-19 cases declining at the start of this week, the launch is likely to attract criticism that it is too little, too late.
Biden announced last month that his administration would buy 500 million tests to kickstart the scheme.
On Thursday, he said he doubling the order to one billion tests.
However, Americans in need of urgent results will have to seek other options because of shipping times.
‘Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests,’ says the website.
‘The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.
‘Order your tests now so you have them when you need them.’
Social media quickly filled up with people welcoming the move and passing on the link to the new website.
But at the same time, dozens more asked what families of more than four should do.
Although many people to Twitter to welcome the news, others pointed out that bigger families or households of more than four would still have to look elsewhere for tests
Traffic to the website surged as news of its soft launch spread, increasing to the point where it accounted for more than half of all traffic to government websites
Anyone clicking on a button to order tests is directed to the United States Postal Service and can check out with a pack of four tests at zero cost.
‘COVID-19 tests will start shipping in late January,’ it says after orders are placed.
Psaki said the beta testing was designed to provide users with the best service but admitted that teething troubles were possible.
‘We didn’t start from scratch here, of course,’ she said.
‘The Postal Service already runs a website that sells goods to the public. As you know, every website launch and our view comes with risk.
‘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.’
Since Saturday, private insurance companies have been required to cover the cost of at-home rapid tests, allowing Americans to be reimbursed for tests they purchase at pharmacies and online retailers. That covers up to eight tests per month.
The administration has been under intense pressure to increase the availability of tests.
The spread of the Omicron variant generated shortages at pharmacies over the holiday season.
But this week brought signs that the worst of the surge may have passed.
Covid infections have begun falling across the U.S. for the first time since the variant erupted at the end of 2021, with cases dropping at least 10 percent in the past seven days.
The U.S. recorded 721,651 new cases on Monday, a steep fall from the 1.364 million cases reported last Monday.
The result is that some public health experts believe the U.S. could be on the way out of the worst of the pandemic.
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb said there was hope on the horizon that infections will drop even lower and that the virus will enter an endemic state in the near future.
He told CNBC’s The Squawk Box that unless the virus dramatically shifts from its current state, it will likely enter an endemic state in the foreseeable future.
‘I think the base case is that this signals the end of the pandemic phase of this virus,’ he said.
Recent trends in case growth, combined with the more mild nature of the Omicron variant compared to its predecessors, has many hopeful that Covid will soon become endemic. If it reaches endemic stage, humans will be able to live normal lives with controlled circulation of the virus – similar to the flu.