Free COVID test kits are now available to order via USPS The at-home tests are expected to be delivered by USPS later this month. The White House said the site is in "beta testing" and will be launched formally Wednesday.

The Postal Service is now taking orders for free COVID-19 test kits

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

I've already ordered mine. I'm talking about with the U.S. Postal Service, which has already begun taking orders for at-home COVID-19 test kits. The website, COVIDtests.gov, was originally slated to begin taking orders tomorrow. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: White House officials say the surprise launch of the website a day early was to ensure it went smoothly and to give government tech experts time to discover and clean up any glitches. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the website is in the beta testing stage.

JEN PSAKI: Meaning we're going to launch it formally tomorrow morning. But this is how we did vaccines.gov as well, so it's kind of a part of the process.

NAYLOR: Critics have said the administration has moved too slowly to implement widespread testing amid the omicron surge. But Psaki said...

PSAKI: We're looking forward to getting free tests out to the public.

NAYLOR: Some 700,000 people were on the website at one point this afternoon. There will also be a phone number, so those without access to computers or high-speed internet can place orders.

Each order will contain four test kits, which the Postal Service says will be shipped for free in late January. The Postal Service asks for people's name, address and shipping information. Some commenters on Twitter said there were problems with orders from people living in apartment buildings with multiple units, being told that someone from that household had already ordered the tests. The Postal Service did not reply to a request for a comment. But other Twitter users said that if the apartment number is in the correct space, the order goes through.

The White House says it will prioritize test shipments to Americans from zip codes that have experienced high rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths with the first 20% of each day's orders going to those areas. President Biden announced last week that the administration plans to buy 1 billion at-home tests and said that the White House will make high-quality masks available for free with details coming out this week. The Postal Service is hiring up to 7,000 temporary workers to address and package the kits at 43 fulfillment centers around the country.

Brian Naylor, NPR news.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE POSTAL SERVICE SONG, "TURN AROUND")

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