You can finally order free COVID-19 tests online

The USPS is ready to send four tests to every household — here’s how to get them.

The Biden administration has launched a website that Americans can use to order free COVID-19 tests, which will then be shipped directly to their homes.

“This program will ensure that Americans have at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available in the weeks and months ahead — in addition to the number of other ways they can get tested,” the White House said in a statement.

Why it matters: COVID-19 tests are invaluable — they let people who suspect they might have COVID-19 know for sure one way or the other, which gives them the confidence to either go to work (and keep the economy rolling) or isolate at home and avoid sickening others. 

Nearly two years into the pandemic, many Americans are still having trouble obtaining at-home COVID-19 tests.

COVID-19 tests are also essential for many schools that require a negative test before students can return after breaks or after exposure, and airlines require them for international travel into the country.

Rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are particularly valuable because they let people learn their infection status quickly and without potentially exposing healthcare workers to the virus.

The challenge: The FDA has authorized more than a dozen over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests, but nearly two years into the pandemic, many Americans are still having trouble getting their hands on one.

This is due to a combination of supply chain issues, increased demand from Omicron, and a shortage of raw materials needed for the tests. 

Order up: On January 13, President Joe Biden announced that his administration was buying up an additional 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests, bringing its total stockpile to one billion — and it planned to ship many of them directly to Americans’ homes for free.

The free COVID-19 tests should ship within 7 to 12 days of ordering.

Every U.S. household can now order up to four free COVID-19 tests through the newly launched website. The administration also plans to set up a phone line so that people without internet access can order tests, though that number has yet to be released.

The U.S. Postal Service will package and deliver the free COVID-19 tests. They should ship within 7 to 12 days of ordering, according to administration officials, so this is probably just useful for stocking up, not if you need a test now.

The cold water: These free COVID-19 tests will undoubtedly be a huge help in the short term, but four per household is highly unlikely to get us through the pandemic. Additional shipments, ramped up manufacturing, or more new test approvals from the FDA will be needed in the longer term.

There’s also the very real possibility that the roll out won’t go as smoothly as the administration is hoping — it wouldn’t be the first time a large government program stumbled upon launch.

Another option: In addition to distributing free COVID-19 tests, the Biden administration is also working to make it easier for Americans to obtain tests on their own (when and where they’re available).

On January 15, a government order requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of up to eight OTC tests per month (if purchased at their “preferred” pharmacies) went into effect — prior to that, insurers only had to cover tests ordered by healthcare providers, leaving Americans to shoulder the cost.

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