The Biden administration’s website for ordering covid-19 tests is finally here, a little less than a month after the president promised he’d be offering millions of tests free of charge to citizens across the country. But not everyone is having an easy time with it. Folks living in apartments and multi-family homes, in particular, are reporting issues ordering the four free tests the site promises. Luckily, the U.S. Postal Service wants to help.
While officially set to launch on Wednesday morning, the site quietly rolled out in beta on Tuesday, in “limited capacity,” as one White House spokesperson put it. In an interview with NBC News, the spokesperson noted that limited launches were “standard practice to address troubleshooting,” in order to ensure a smooth rollout come the following day. And apparently, that beta version still had some kinks that needed to be worked out.
The big issue, as many folks on Twitter quickly realized, was that those living in multi-unit buildings—like apartments, for example—were getting error messages saying that tests had already been ordered for their address. As the USPS site explains, households in the U.S. are allowed to order one set of four tests from its site at a time. Apparently, the site was registering different apartment or unit numbers within one building as being under the same address, leaving unnumbered people unable to get the tests they were promised.
And like most aspects of the pandemic, this is an issue that disproportionally affects the poor. In major cities like New York, for example, affordable housing typically takes the form of multi-unit dwellings and apartment buildings. Even outside of those cities, there are countless impoverished and lower-income families that squeeze multiple generations under one roof just to make ends meet.
Also at the short end of the stick are the countless lower-income people that can’t afford decent internet access; while the Biden administration initially promised that these households would be able to phone-in orders from a dedicated hotline, that number doesn’t seem to be up and running as of Wednesday. Speaking anonymously with Politico on Tuesday, an administration official said that the call line would be ready “by week’s end.” The same official added that the tech issues were “not widespread” and that orders were being prioritized for those in areas “facing disproportionate covid-19 cases and deaths” this early on.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed similar sentiments during a Tuesday press briefing, noting that “every website launch […] comes with risk.”
“We can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two,” she went on. “But the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success.”
Granted, the best tech teams that previous administrations offered us haven’t necessarily set the best precedent. The launch of Healthcare.gov under the Obama administration, for example, was plagued by countless site crashes and lengthy wait times from the millions flooding the site. Since then, we’ve seen countless other federal sites hit by their own hiccups as well.
Thankfully, if you are having problems ordering your covid-19 rapid tests, the USPS—the agency handling the orders—recommended to CNET “filing a service request at https://emailus.usps.com/s/the-postal-store-inquiry or contacting our help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS, to help address the issue.”
Biden’s new site also offers people options if they’re frustrated with what the page has to offer right now. It includes links explaining to users how they can get their health insurance to reimburse up to eight tests each month per person on a given plan, while also directing people toward a list of the more than 20,000 free covid-19 testing sites across the country. Like the aforementioned website, some testing pop-ups can be rife with their own issues—long lines, questionable cleanliness, and more, depending on which company is doing the testing when you arrive. But at least for the time being, these pop-ups and buggy sites might be the best America has to offer.