According to the White House, the tests will be sent out in late January, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday confirmed they will be “sent out very soon.” “I don’t have an updated number of how many have been ordered,” Psaki said at a press briefing. “It’s changing constantly. I expect we will have more of an update on that hopefully by next week.” The administration announced two separate purchases for a total of 1 billion rapid tests to be sent free-of-charge to Americans after facing mounting criticism for the short supply of tests as the highly contagious omicron variant drove a spike in cases and hospitalizations nationwide.
The line will accept orders from 8 a.m. to midnight EST every day of the week, and will speak over 150 languages, including English and Spanish. When ordering tests over the phone, customers must supply their name and address; no credit card or health insurance is required. The introduction of the phone line follows the launch of the government COVIDtests.gov website on Tuesday, which allows Americans to order the four free quick tests. A government official stated last week that the free call line was introduced so that “Americans who have trouble accessing the Internet or need additional support can phone-in requests for their testing.”
The federal government has taken numerous steps to make COVID-19 testing free-of-charge, or at the very least, covered and reimbursable for those who have health insurance. As of Jan. 15, health insurance companies were required to reimburse or cover the cost of up to eight approved over-the-counter COVID tests per person per month. In theory, the administration has procured enough tests for every U.S. resident, even for the approximately 28 million Americans without health insurance.
Officials also encourage serial testing – performing two or more tests over the period of several days – as it “improves the reliability of testing and reduces your risk of transmitting disease to others even further,” per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But there are a number of reasons why supply might still dwindle quickly. While federal health officials do not recommend testing as a precondition to leaving isolation for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they do recommend testing in a number of other scenarios: if a person has been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, if an individual feels symptoms of the virus or as a precautionary measure before attending an indoor gathering.