The U.S. government quietly conducted a soft launch Tuesday of its website where Americans can request free rapid coronavirus tests — a day ahead of the scheduled rollout.
Covidtests.gov quickly became the most accessed federal government website as millions of households began placing orders for test kits.
“COVIDtests.gov is up and running to help prepare for the full launch tomorrow. We have tests for every residential address in the U.S. Please check back tomorrow if you run into any unexpected issues,” said a notice at the top of the government website.
This reporter mid-Tuesday was able to complete an order within about a minute after clicking on the link that connects to a U.S. Postal Service form.
Some occupants of apartments and other multi-unit dwellings, however, complained on social media that the website’s address verification tool was enforcing the four-per-person household, only allowing one family per building to request the tests.
A member of Congress from the state of New York, Carolyn Maloney, tweeted advice on how apartment residents might avoid the glitch.
“Every website launch, in our view, comes with risk,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during Tuesday’s White House briefing. “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.”
An administration official last week promised reporters, “we’re ready for this,” explaining that four individual rapid antigen tests would be shipped in seven to 12 days via the Postal Service after a completed online order.
“The 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service are ready to deliver and proud to play a critical role in supporting the health needs of the American public,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement last week. “We have been working closely with the Administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits on the first day the program launches.”
President Joe Biden last week announced the government will purchase another 500 million at-home tests for the public, in addition to the order made last month for half a billion tests.
The Biden administration’s plan is a classic case of big government seeming to be “needed” because it is difficult for private forces to address the problem, according to Jeffrey Miron, director of economic studies at the Cato Institute and a Harvard University economist.
Americans have the option to purchase tests at pharmacies and other stores. New federal rules went into effect Saturday requiring private medical insurance companies to cover the cost of those at-home tests, but insurers say it could take weeks to sort out the reimbursement procedures, adding another headache to the process.
“This federal intervention would never have been necessary had the private sector been free to develop, test, and sell test kits without interference from the Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Disease Control,” Miron told VOA. “Other countries had rapid tests widely available many months ago; so, the technology was clearly available.”
Given the existing rules and regulations about private production and sale of test kits, however, “federal distribution is perhaps a useful step that will reduce the delays and bottlenecks that many people are experiencing in purchasing kits from private suppliers,” Miron said.