Today, the Biden administration soft launched COVIDtests.gov, the portal to get four free at-home tests, one day ahead of schedule. (The U.S. Postal Service is shipping them out so that link redirects to usps.com/testkits—it’s real and not a scam.)
I texted this link to my family group chat, three friend group chats, and four other people. It’s been hard to find at-home rapid tests in stock anywhere, and here was some real-live good news. Then I realized exactly what it was I was getting excited about: a one-time order of four free tests per household, no matter how many people live in that household, two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 850,000 Americans. Four tests that the USPS site says will start shipping in late January which is, quite literally, too little, too late for the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Plus, there are reports of people in multifamily buildings running into issues, and there’s no hotline for people with these issues or people without internet access.
In that instant of celebrating crumbs, I became the Mr. Rogers-putting-on-a-clown-mask gif.
Four free at-home tests is a complete joke. In the United Kingdom, anyone over age 11 can order a pack of seven tests, for free, every single day. In Germany, a country whose population is one-quarter the size of ours, people can get swabbed at more than 15,000 free rapid testing sites. (What do these two countries have in common? National healthcare systems.) It seems like we’re only getting our measly four tests because Biden’s press secretary made a snarky comment.
In December, the administration announced that insurance companies would soon have to reimburse people for at-home tests they purchase. When an NPR reporter pointed out that process was unnecessarily complicated and asked why tests weren’t free and available everywhere, press secretary Jen Psaki shot back, “Should we just send one to every American?”
Her response prompted rightful outrage, and just two weeks later, Biden was standing at a podium announcing the purchase of 500 million at-home tests that the government would ship to people’s homes for free. Biden has since pledged to buy 500 million additional tests. (This is something the administration could have done way sooner—please recall the scuttled Trump administration idea to mail cloth masks to every household in 2020, the infrastructure was there.)
The Postal Service is incredible, but tasking the agency with delivering 1 billion tests over the next few weeks (months?) might crush it. Just today, the USPS had more than 19,000 workers (out of 650,000) were isolating with Covid-19.
The Biden administration put most of its efforts behind Covid vaccines which have no doubt saved lives. But there is still a solid 30 percent of people eligible to get the jab who aren’t fully vaccinated, and this vaccine hesitancy has been evident for a long time, plus Omicron is increasingly infecting people who haven’t had booster shots. Making free tests more available is something the administration should have been working on for months, not just after its press secretary got dragged on Twitter.
If we had leaders who believed that health care is a human right not a for-profit industry, people wouldn’t have to worry about getting reimbursed for tests for a deadly virus, or whether they’d get their four pathetic free tests before supplies run out. We deserve so much better.