WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s new website allowing people to order up to four free at-home coronavirus tests quietly went live on Tuesday — a day in advance of its formal launch — and demand already appeared to be significant.
A combined total of more than 1 million visitors were on the home page and the ordering page of covidtests.gov at one point Tuesday evening — more than 40 times as many as were on the government site with the next highest traffic, the U.S. Postal Service’s package-tracking page, according to analytics.usa.gov, which monitors traffic on participating federal websites.
At a White House news conference on Tuesday, President Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the official launch would take place on Wednesday morning, but that the site had begun taking orders during what she described as a “beta testing phase” conducted by the U.S. Digital Service, the government’s technology support division.
Also on Wednesday, the White House will announce that it is making 400 million “high quality,” nonsurgical N95 masks available, free of charge, at community health centers and retail pharmacies across the nation. The masks will be released from the Strategic National Stockpile, officials said, calling the effort the “largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.”
The two moves show that the Biden administration is trying to step up its coronavirus response as the highly infectious Omicron variant drives a spike in cases across the nation. The administration at first resisted the idea of sending tests to Americans’ homes, but it has now enlisted the U.S. Postal Service to handle orders and deliveries.
But it wasn’t long before the pilot testing revealed some apparent glitches.
Some people living in apartment buildings said they were blocked from ordering tests if other tenants had already put in requests for the same building. Some who receive their mail at post office boxes also reported confusion in ordering, because the site includes a disclaimer that says orders would ship only to valid residential addresses.
In a statement, the Postal Service said the problems were confined to “a small percentage of orders” and recommended that customers file a service request or contact the Postal Service help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
Still, it was frustrating for those who had difficulty ordering. Gina Lindo, 46, easily ordered four tests for herself from the federal website on Tuesday afternoon, requesting that they be sent to her single-family home on Long Island. But when Ms. Lindo tried to order tests for her parents, who live in an apartment in Queens, she got an error message.
“Home Covid-19 tests have already been ordered for this address,” the message read. “We are unable to process duplicate orders for the same address.”
Ms. Lindo said she had immediately called her mother to ask if she had already ordered the tests. She had not, but an upstairs neighbor had, they learned.
Jan. 19, 2022, 5:41 a.m. ET
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