The Biden administration launched the website COVIDtests.gov on Tuesday so every household in the country could order four at-home COVID-19 tests for free via an online portal, but some New Yorkers have encountered an early glitch.
While some have already logged on to claim their tests without a problem, others get a pop-up message saying their order can’t be processed because tests have already been claimed for their address.
“I tried putting in my address in a bunch of different ways,” said Cassia Kisshauer, a librarian who lives in an eight-story building in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, “and I kept getting the same ‘duplicate’ message.”
WNYC/Gothamist reached out to federal and local officials to figure out what’s behind the snag and if users can avoid it.
The issue is affecting people in apartment buildings that aren’t registered as multi-unit homes with the U.S. Postal Service, which operates the online portal and is responsible for delivering the tests. In those cases, the site might only allow one order of four tests for the entire building – meaning if someone’s neighbor got there first, they could be out of luck for now.
David Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesperson, said this is only happening in “very limited cases” but didn’t provide a specific number. He said anyone who has this issue, or another problem claiming their free tests, should file an inquiry with the postal service at this webpage or call 1-800-ASK-USPS for assistance getting the problem corrected.
Some local politicians say they are also trying to tackle the snafu.
“I am looking into reports of error messages for folks in multi-dwelling buildings such as apartments,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, tweeted Tuesday. For now, she suggested people use this other Postal Service site to look up how exactly their address is listed, adding that it “has helped some people clear the error.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on what they are doing to remedy the issue, which is also being reported in other parts of the country.
Kisshauer said her next step would be to call the help number that the Postal Service provided. She said she had been temporarily working from home amid the recent surge of the omicron variant — but that she is due back for face-to-face work in about a week and hopes to test frequently.
“I'm very lucky, in that I live alone,” Kisshauer said. “So, if I do get the four tests, I can obviously stretch those out more than a family.”
Once people place their orders on the Postal Service site, the tests will usually be shipped in seven to 12 days, Partenheimer said.
Those who want additional free tests may also be able to go through their insurance. Starting this past Saturday, private insurance plans had to start covering up to eight at-home tests per month for each member at no cost to the individual.
But that federal program has hit some early speed bumps, as well. A few days before launching, several insurers contacted by WNYC/Gothamist said they were still unsure how this coverage would work, and Business Insider couldn’t find any tests in stock when its reporters searched a handful of pharmacies in California and New York.
But since then, insurance plans have started reaching out to members and posting details online about how tests will be covered. In some cases, people will be able to use their insurance benefits to get home testing kits through a pharmacy for free without any up-front costs. In other cases, they will have to pay for the tests and then seek to get reimbursed.