The government's website offering free COVID tests is up and running, officially launching Wednesday, though thousands of Americans got an early chance to order free COVID-19 testing kits Tuesday.
The website is COVIDTests.gov, which then directs people to a U.S. Postal Service site.
Americans are supposed to be able to order four kits per address. Once ordered, tests are expected to be mailed within seven to 12 days.
“We can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, “but the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success.”
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On Tuesday, some users immediately identified at least one problem with the website, which was in beta testing ahead of the launch. Orders made by different people living in the same apartment building but in different units were rejected as duplicates, according to some tweets.
Some Twitter users reported one workaround is to put your apartment number in the street address field.
USA TODAY tested the site and got a message that "COVID-19 tests will start shipping in late January." The Postal Service will send only four free at-home tests to valid residential addresses, the site said.
Ordering USPS COVID test kits
A credit card isn't needed to order the tests and there is no cost, unlike the insurance reimbursement program that started Saturday, in which many will have to submit receipts to get the tests free.
The tests are part of the Biden administration's purchase of 500 million tests last month to help tackle a record surge in infections.
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Can I order more than four free COVID tests if I live in a large household?
According to the frequently asked questions on the government site, the answer is no. “To promote broad access, the initial program will only allow 4 free individual tests per residential address.”
You also can get up to eight free at-home tests a month for each person on your health insurance plan.
Will I be able to track my COVID-19 test order status?
Yes, you’ll also get an email with your order confirmation. The site says you’ll receive email notifications with shipping updates, including estimated delivery date and a tracking number on USPS.com.
What kind of COVID tests will be sent?
“All tests distributed as part of this program are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests. You will not be able to choose the brand you order as part of this program,” the government says on its website.
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Tips to find at-home COVID tests
If you are trying to find an at-home test now – before the free tests come through USPS – it can be a daunting task.
But it is possible to find testing kits in stores and online with some tools, determination and luck in the face of ongoing shortages.
Some are using the same tactics to find the tests that are being used to score the hard-to-find PS5 and Xbox Series X video game consoles: Following Twitter and social media accounts that blast when the tests are in stock.
There are also apps and websites that alert consumers when tests arrive.
Eli Coustan, a 14-year-old from the Evanston suburb of Chicago, started his website Findacovidtest.org at the end of December after seeing how difficult it was to find the at-home tests.
"I had created a site to find vaccines earlier in the pandemic and knew that I would be able to use a lot of similar technology to create something to find at-home tests you can order online and get shipped," Eli told USA TODAY. He said he started ILVaccine.org in February 2021 after he saw how hard it was for his grandparents to get appointments.
For shopping online, alerts or notifications, whether from store apps or third-party sites or apps, are one of the best ways to find inventory.
Target has in-stock alerts that you can sign up for with its app. Apps such as Hot Stock also can send notifications. The app is free, but there’s an option to pay $5.49 to receive notifications for up to 10 products.
Eli says his site automatically updates every five to 10 minutes, and site visitors can sign up for text notifications.
The site tracks coronavirus tests online inventory at Amazon, CVS, Costco, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, Sam's Club and more, and you can select the brand of test you're interested in.
Once you get an alert, you'll need to act fast: Supplies will go fast, and ordering can take multiple attempts.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID test kits: Free tests available on White House site, mailed USPS