The Biden administration on Tuesday launched its website allowing people to order four at-home Covid-19 tests for free through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and it also announced it would make 400 million free N95 masks available to Americans at community health centers and retail pharmacies.
Biden administration soft-launches at-home Covid-19 test website
On Tuesday, the official site to order free coronavirus tests, covidtests.gov, was launched—one day prior to the previously announced launch date. According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the site was in a "beta testing phase" and was officially launched Wednesday morning.
The site immediately experienced heavy traffic, the New York Times reports. According to analytics.usa.gov, at one point on Tuesday morning, more than a million users were on the site's home page and ordering page.
Psaki said the site may experience "a bug or two" but added that "the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success."
The administration said the tests will typically ship between seven to 12 days after an order is placed.
Biden administration announces distribution of 400M N95 masks
Meanwhile, the Biden administration plans to announce on Wednesday that it will make 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks available to all Americans for free at local community health centers and retail pharmacies, a White House official told the Post.
The masks, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile, will start shipping by the end of this week and should be available at community health centers and pharmacies by late next week, the Washington Post reports.
Three masks will be available per adult, and a White House official told the Post the administration "anticipate[s] making additional, high-quality masks for children available in the near future."
Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethics specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, praised the move, calling it "a big step forward."
"Everyone wearing N95 masks is the single biggest thing we could do to reduce transmission," Emanuel said. "It reduces what's going out, and it blocks what's coming in."
Free mask distribution comes after CDC updates mask guidance
The announcement comes shortly after CDC on Friday updated its mask guidance for Americans. The agency recommended that Americans wear the most protective mask or respirator they can find, but noted that "it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask," according to a CDC statement.
"Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting [National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety]-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection," CDC's new guidelines say.
The guidelines also note that a "highly protective mask or respirator may be most important for certain higher risk situations, or by some people at increased risk for severe disease."
According to CDC, consumers searching for high-quality masks should look for labels like "meets ASTM F3502" or "meets workplace performance." However, masks labeled as "surgical" N95s "should be reserved for use by health care personnel," CDC said.
The updated guidance "reflect[s] the science on masking, including what we have learned in the past two years," CDC said in its statement. "We will continue to share the science of masking as it becomes available." (Stolberg/Fadulu, New York Times, 1/18; Collins et al., CNN, 1/18; Leonard, Politico, 1/18; Miller/O'Brien, Associated Press, 1/19; Stolberg, New York Times, 1/19; Reyes, Axios, 1/19; Sun/Diamond, Washington Post, 1/19; Siddiqui, Wall Street Journal, 1/19; Lim/Cancryn, Politico, 1/19; Dillinger/Bonifield, CNN, 1/14)