The Biden administration’s effort to distribute free Covid-19 tests nationwide was supposed to start Wednesday. Instead, the government quietly began taking orders on Tuesday.
Every household can obtain four free rapid antigen tests by going to CovidTests.gov and clicking through to a U.S. Postal Service site signup sheet and filling out the short form, which only asks for a name and address.
Every household is eligible for the free tests, but will only receive four, at least to start. The shipments will go out in seven to 10 days, according to a statement last week by the White House.
The move attempts to address a scarcity of rapid tests in Oregon and elsewhere. On Dec. 28, the Oregon Health Authority bought 12 million Covid rapid tests from iHealth Labs Inc., in Sunnyvale, California. They were supposed to be delivered on Jan. 7, but so far about 4 million have arrived. Oregon officials said they’re expecting to receive the rest of the tests by the end of January.
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An official at the company, Mingwei Guan, told the Capital Chronicle that the holdup was caused by delays of flights from China, where the tests are manufactured, and by a shortage of workers at its California warehouse.
The state is distributing the tests to hospitals and to clinics that treat low-income patients – not directly to the public.
Rapid antigen tests, which usually involve swabbing the inside of both nostrils and then putting the swab into a solution to look for indications of Covid-19, are not as accurate as molecular tests, so-called PCR tests. Rapid tests often don’t pick up an infection the first few days after exposure when people can be the most infectious, but they’re a quick and easy way from home to determine a Covid status. They usually only take about 10 to 15 minutes to get results. Federal health officials advised people to test themselves or others when they start to have symptoms, at least five days after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19 or when gathering indoors with people who are at risk of severe disease or unvaccinated. Anyone who tests positive should stay away from others for at least five days, according to the latest guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.