The federal government conducted a soft launch of a website designed to give Americans access to free at-home COVID tests, with an eye toward the full launch coming on Wednesday.
The free tests are part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to provide Americans with access to up to half-a-billion COVID tests in the new year, with each household eligible to receive four free tests through the United States Postal Service’s special website.
“Bottom line, this winter, you will be able to get tests for free in the comfort of your home, with peace of mind,” the president said.
The soft launch of the site came as a surprise to many on Tuesday, but many residents were able to access the tests.
Feeling out of the loop? We'll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.
According to the federal government, contracts for up to one billion tests will be awarded in a joint effort between the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We see that there’s been enormous demand, and we are trying to keep up with that demand,” Dr. Tom Inglesby, senior advisor to the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team, said.
The tests come after criticism of the administration for not taking more proactive steps prior to the holiday season, with omicron cases surging across the U.S. during the last month of the year.
The availability of those tests comes as a relief to some, but some residents still want the federal government to do more.
“It’s not a full solution, but it’s something,” Chicago area resident Stephanie Andrade said.
There are other criticisms of the program as well, including the limit of four tests per household, which caused headaches for some individuals who live in apartments, only to find out that the website wouldn’t allow them to order tests for their units.
Abigail Echohawk, an epidemiologist with the Seattle Indian Health Board, says that there are other potential issues as well for those residents in rural communities, and those who have limited access to the internet.
“If we rely solely on the internet, we’re going to see those in rural areas, and those on reservations, not being able to get the same access to information,” she said. “And that will continue to drive the inequity of the impact of COVID-19.”
The government says that a phone number will be set up, so that residents can order their tests via the phone, but it is not known when that service will be available.
Delivery time on the tests is expected to take between 7-to-10 days, but could take up to 12 days in some instances, according to officials.
For more information on the program, visit the NBC 5 app.