Here’s How To Order Free At-Home COVID Tests
Amid a COVID-19 test shortage that began during the holiday season, the Biden Administration just launched an initiative to get free COVID-19 tests into every household within the U.S. The White House purchased one billion rapid tests and, starting Jan. 19, is giving a half billion away for free through the new online portal CovidTests.gov.
Each U.S. household is eligible to receive four tests and will receive those tests via USPS in 7 to 12 days after ordering.
However, as is seemingly inevitable with large-scale government projects, there are already some issues with the free rapid test program and criticism regarding the number of tests allotted per household. But citizens and government officials alike are ironing out the creases and figuring out how to make sure everyone has access to a free test despite the current stipulations.
To order free COVID-19 rapid tests for your own home, here’s what you need to do:
First, head to CovidTests.gov. Click the “Order Free At-Home Tests” button, which will take you to a USPS webpage. You’ll fill out your contact and shipping information and click “Check Out Now.” Remember to use your USPS shipping information, which may be either your house number or a PO Box.
You’ll then receive confirmation that your rapid test order has been placed or be alerted if someone from your household has already ordered the free tests. Because the program only allows for four tests per household at this time, two people within the same house cannot make duplicate orders.
You can also order tests for your household over the phone. As New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney tweeted, tests can also be ordered by dialing the Vaccine.gov hotline at 1-800-232-0233. The disability access number is 1-888-677-1199 and for TTY dial 1-888-720-7489.
Unfortunately, families with more than four members and housing situations with more than four roommates cannot get more than the four tests. As many have stated, this is the largest issue with the current program, as many Americans will still be unable to get a test.
The White House states that the free tests should be used only if someone is experiencing symptoms “within five days after coming in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, or are gathering indoors with a group of people who are at risk of severe disease or unvaccinated.”
Furthermore, there is a bug in the ordering process that is not allowing some people in multi-dwelling buildings to order tests for their specific address. Rep. Maloney writes that, if you receive an error message, you can use the USPS address finder to ensure you’re entering your exact address that’s filed with USPS.
You can also try to input your apartment number using “Apt” before the number and letter.
Some have also found success putting their apartment number on the Street Address line rather than the Apt/Suite line. However, this may not work if your apartment is a lettered apartment rather than a numbered one.
For some multi-dwelling buildings, the issue actually is within the USPS database and you can contact USPS to update your building’s status at 1-800-ASK-USPS or using the USPS Address Management System Office Locator to find your regional office that handles building postal statuses.
According to the White House’s website, the Biden Administration is paying special attention to making sure the free test program reaches the “hardest-hit and highest risk communities.”
“This includes prioritizing processing orders to households experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly during this Omicron surge; launching a free call line, so that Americans who have difficulty accessing the internet or need additional support can phone-in orders for their tests; and, working with national and local organizations with deep experience serving communities of color, people living with disabilities, and other high-risk communities to serve as navigators, raise awareness about the program, and help people submit requests,” the White House press release reads.
As of Jan. 15, the Biden Administration is also requiring that private health insurance providers cover the cost of at-home rapid tests purchased from pharmacies and other sellers.
If and when you decide to purchase additional at-home rapid tests, be sure to show your insurance card when checking out at the store. The White House states that private insurance companies and health plans are now required to cover costs of up to eight at-home tests per covered individual.
“That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month,” the White House press release states. And save any receipts you have from purchasing COVID tests and contact your health insurance company to get reimbursed.
This could be an effective temporary workaround to those experiencing bugs with the USPS free test delivery program — that is, if there are rapid tests available in stores in your area.
The Biden Administration is also planning to increase the number of rapid tests in public schools for students, staff, and families by 10 million per month to help schools stay open and safe. And 50 million free at-home tests will be distributed to thousands of community health centers and rural health clinics that serve highest-risk communities.
Studies are still being conducted to learn more about the effectiveness of rapid tests and over-the-counter tests detection of the omicron variant, but NPR’s health correspondent Maria Godoy reported that they’re still useful in detecting the virus if used correctly — that is, at least three days after being exposed.
There are still 20,000 free COVID-19 testing sites open in the U.S., though COVID spikes and lack of tests are limiting appointment availability. Hopefully the free rapid test program will provide some peace of mind and knock down COVID numbers in the weeks ahead.