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QUESTIONS ANSWERED: One-on-one with White House after free COVID test site launches early

Questions were initially circulating about whether or not these early orders would be accepted before the official launch day. Dr. Webb confirmed they will be.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Americans can now access the website to order free COVID-19 tests through the Biden administration, and a day earlier than expected. As of Tuesday evening, more than one million people had already placed their order, but many questions still remained.

13 ON YOUR SIDE spoke one-on-one with a senior member of the White House COVID-19 Response Team to get those questions answered. 

"We haven't officially launched it yet, but I know hundreds of thousands of folks are ordering tests right now," said Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor for Equity for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, "so I guess you can't hold back that level of interest and demand."

COVIDTests.gov is a place where Americans can order free at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests. The website was set to officially launch mid-morning on Wednesday, Jan. 18, but the White House said a "testing phase" had gone live as a way to test the system before the full roll out. 

"Of course it's not us telling people that this site is out there already, but internet sleuths are skillful and they've found their way to the site a little early," said Dr. Webb. "This is kind of normal routine practice to make sure the site is functioning and executing well."

Questions were initially circulating about whether or not these early orders would be accepted before the official launch day. Dr. Webb confirmed they will be. 

"If you're able to get through the site and order on Tuesday, it's just as if you're ordering from the site at any point on Wednesday after it's launched live," he said. 

One kit will be given to each residential address, and each kit contains four tests. They will all be delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. 

"We have more than 120 million residences here in the United States and 500 million tests to distribute," said Dr. Webb, "so we have a test kit for everybody."

Dr. Webb said that those 500 million tests aren't the only resource for free tests across the U.S. 

"We also have 50 million tests going to community health centers, long-term care facilities and to organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness," said Dr. Webb, "so there are a lot of different ways that we're getting free tests out into communities."

13 ON YOUR SIDE also wanted to learn more about where the government was getting the supply of all these tests, as in recent weeks it's been difficult to find rapid tests in local stores. 

"The contracts that we executed for these 500 million tests had an explicit requirement that it's above and beyond the tests that are on the market," explained Dr. Webb, "So, this isn't taking away from what these manufacturers are putting in your CVS or Walgreens or Rite Aid's, and it's not taking away from what they've contracted with states or with localities. This is specifically an above and beyond amount."

Dr. Webb also explained that the Biden Administration is calling on these manufacturers to keep up their production enough to meet this need, and they were told that wouldn't be a problem when the contracts were drawn. 

In just the month of January, Dr. Webb said 375 million test kits will be available on the market, not including the 500 million through COVIDTests.org. In November, there were only 100 million tests on the market.

"So that's the kind of demand that we're seeing," said Dr. Webb. "We know we have to meet this moment, and that's why we're taking really strong actions like this."

When announcing this plan, the White House said more tests could go out at some point to each household, but that depends on supply.

13 ON YOUR SIDE also asked if the White House is concerned about overloading the postal system with the millions of orders. 

"This is the same U.S. Postal Service that just pulled off the holidays, so we know that they're able to deliver a tremendous amount of volume," said Dr. Webb. "We're not concerned about delays because they're not concerned about delays."

And as always, 13 ON YOUR SIDE also wanted to know if a website of this size will crash with the amount of users. 

"If the demand on the website is so great that it crashes, that would be surprising to us based on all of the work we've done on the front end," said Dr. Webb. "We expect we can absorb that volume but if we can't, we have some really good contingencies in place."

The White House said "tests will typically ship within 7 to 12 days of ordering" and that Americans will need to get them well before they meet the guidelines for requiring them. 

"It's not a program that's designed for you to order a test when you feel like you had an exposure or you feel sick," said Dr. Webb. "If that's the case, then you should go get tested within your community, or pick up a test at your local pharmacy."

"The idea is to make sure that people have this before they ever have any challenges," he added, "and we think that if we prime that pump, and get tests into people's homes, it's really going to be a huge benefit in our effort to fight this pandemic."

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also announced Tuesday that she is urging Michiganders to take advantage of these free COVID-19 tests.

"The federal program to deliver free tests to every family is simple, easy, and effective. It will remove barriers to testing including time and cost and make it easier for Michiganders to get tested," said Gov. Whitmer. 

"Testing is a crucial tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and I encourage every Michigander to claim their free COVID-19 tests at COVIDTests.gov."  

"Testing in addition to getting vaccinated and wearing masks are extremely effective tools in preventing the spread of COVID-19," said Elizabeth Hertel, director of MDHHS. 

"We are grateful for the efforts the federal government is taking to make testing easy and accessible for all Michiganders. We hope all households in our state will take advantage of this resource." 

To order your free COVID-19 testing kit, click here. You can also watch 13 ON YOUR SIDE's full interview with Dr. Cameron Webb here:

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