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Federal government website offers free at-home COVID-19 tests

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Federal government website offers free at-home COVID-19 tests
Technicians take COVID-19 testing samples from those that have waited in line at the St. Clair Square Shopping Center & Mall in Fairview Heights, Illinois. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The federal government launched a website Tuesday for Americans to order up to four free COVID-19 testing kits per household.

On Friday, the White House announced that the administration of President Joe Biden was buying 1 billion tests to distribute for free to Americans, and online ordering of half a billion kits would begin Wednesday, but ordering has now begun a day ahead of schedule.

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"Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests," the covidtests.gov website said Tuesday. "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," it adds, with a link to order the tests.

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According to the order form posted by the U.S. Postal Service, there is a limit of one order, including four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests per residential address, with orders to begin shipping in late January.

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"Today, in alignment with website launch best practices, covidtests.gov is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at a limited capacity ahead of its official launch," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told NBC News. "This is standard practice to address troubleshooting and ensure as smooth of an official launch tomorrow as possible. We expect the website to officially launch midmorning tomorrow."

Still, by mid-afternoon Tuesday, over half a million people had visited the site, according to a government website that tracks web traffic to government sites, with other websites trailing behind in the amount of web traffic, CBS News reported.

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Earlier this week, some people were already able to order tests through the White House's program, which granted priority access through a portal launched with the National Association of Community Health Workers for people living in "high-risk" ZIP codes, according to CBS.

The covidtests.gov website noted that other resources are available for individuals who need a test immediately through pharmacies and retailers nationwide and free testing sites with a link to find a community-based test site. It also noted that health insurance companies can reimburse up to eight at-home tests per plan.

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"To ensure equity and access for all Americans, the Administration will also launch a call line to help those unable to access the website to place orders, and work with national and local community-based organizations to support the nation's hardest-hit and highest-risk communities in requesting tests," the White House said in its statement Friday.

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The federal government announced last month it would start mailing free at-home COVID-19 tests upon request to any U.S. household amid the surge in the Omicron variant, and the White House said at the time it was preparing up to 500 million kits to ship.

Long lines forming at testing centers and at-home rapid tests quickly selling out have been among the biggest challenges for the administration, public officials have said.

"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 to CBS. "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."

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