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01/18/2022

Federal government to provide free masks, COVID-19 tests

The federal government is providing 400 million N95 masks and at-home COVID-19 tests for free.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently confirmed that the government website to order free COVID-19 tests is up and running as part of a "beta phase" ahead of the website's formal rollout Wednesday morning, according to several reports, including CNN

"COVIDtests.gov is in the beta phase right now, which is a standard part of the process typically as it's being kind of tested in the early stages of being rolled out," Psaki told reporters at the White House. "It will officially launch tomorrow morning."

Given the formal launch wasn't expected until Jan. 19, a White House official said this is only the beta phase to ensure the site works seamlessly.

"In alignment with website launch best practices, COVIDtests.gov is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at limited capacity ahead of its official launch," a White House official told CNN. "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 mid-morning tomorrow."

[Read more: Retailers put limits in place for purchases of at home COVID-19 tests

Though the official said the site was only operating at a limited capacity, it's unclear how the initial phase of the site is limited. Once shipping information was entered online, the site instructed people that tests would begin shipping in "late January" and the United States Postal Service, which is handling the deliveries, "will only send one set of 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests to valid residential addresses."

Late last week, administration officials said that once a request is made through the website, the tests are expected to ship within seven to 12 days. Requests are limited to four tests per household, regardless of household size.

In addition to the website, the federal government is setting up a hotline to request the tests. It's not clear when the hotline will launch.

[Read more: CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and Walmart now selling Abbott's at-home COVID-19 test OTC]

The President announced his plan to make half a billion COVID-19 rapid tests available to Americans by mail last month ahead of Christmas, as the Omicron variant was surging across the U.S.

The Biden administration also announced that it will make 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free starting next week, a White House official told CNN.

    To ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person. In addition to this program, thanks to the administration's efforts, these high-quality masks are in ample supply and widely available to American consumers," the official said.

    The report noted that the official said that the masks, which are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile will be made available at a number of local pharmacies and community health centers, and that the program will be "fully up and running by early February."

    People looking to pick up the free masks will be limited to three per person, according to a  White House official.

    [Read more: Biden administration to distribute free masks, purchase additional 500M COVID-19 tests]

    The 400 million non-surgical N95 masks amount to more than half of the 750 million stored in the U.S.' Strategic National Stockpile, a figure that tripled over the last year as the White House sought to boost reserves. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recently advised that well-fitting respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health — such as N95 masks — offer "the highest level of protection" against COVID-19.

    The administration's step comes as the U.S. grapples with an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases. An average of more than 750,000 new COVID-19 infections were reported every day over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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