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You'll be able to order free at-home COVID test kits starting on Wednesday

Hillary Tirado leaves with her family and her free test kits. She and her family came as early as possible because of long lines at testing centers and wait times for testing appointments. Hartford handed out COVID-19 test kits at Hartford Public Library on Dec. 30, 2021.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Hillary Tirado leaves with her family and her free test kits from the City of Hartford at the public library. She and her family came as early as possible because of long lines at testing centers and wait times for testing appointments. Hartford handed out city-purchased kits, as the state awaited its own shipment for distribution, mean to be a stopgap for the lag in Federal test kits. Dec. 30, 2021.

Updated January 14, 2022 at 2:30 PM ET

The Biden administration announced Friday that Americans can begin ordering free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests starting Jan. 19.

Orders for up to four tests per household can be placed using the website COVIDtests.gov. The administration will also set up a phone number so those without access to computers or high-speed internet can place orders.

The White House said tests will usually ship within seven to 12 days of ordering, meaning most Americans won't receive them until the end of January.

People ordering tests will input their name and mailing address on the website and can share an email address to get updates on their order, officials said. The website was created with help from the U.S. Digital Service, a federal program created to make federal tech better in the wake of the botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website for Affordable Care Act health insurance in 2013.

"We're ready for this," an official told reporters, saying they were cognizant of the need to make sure the website works.

Details of the website come a day after President Biden announced that the administration will buy another 500 million at-home coronavirus tests for Americans, in addition to his plans detailed last month to order 500 million tests. He also said the White House will make high-quality masks available for free, with details coming out next week.

The U.S. Postal Service, meanwhile, is preparing to facilitate the mailing of the at-home test kits. Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told NPR that up to 7,000 temporary workers will be hired, some of whom were already employed as holiday help, to package and address the test kits at 43 fulfillment centers around the United States.

"We're very excited, and at the end of the day, we're here to serve the people of the country and we're dedicated to that mission," Dimondstein said. "Postal workers are ready to rock and roll."

The Postal Service would not comment on the specifics, but in a statement, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said:

"The United States Postal Service is proud to fulfill its mission of service to the nation by delivering Covid test kits as part of this important public health initiative of the Biden Administration. The 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service are ready to deliver and proud to play a critical role in supporting the health needs of the American public. We have been working closely with the Administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits on the first day the program launches."

Biden announces new medical teams to help overwhelmed hospitals

Biden on Thursday also again urged Americans to get vaccinated and get booster shots in order to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus and to take the stress off hospitals and medical staff.

"If you haven't gotten vaccinated, do it," Biden implored. "Personal choice impacts us all." He called COVID-19 "one of the most formidable enemies America has ever faced. We've got to work together, not against each other."

Biden also said six new federal medical teams will be dispatched to aid overwhelmed hospitals in six states.

The medical teams are being sent to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio; Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Rhode Island Hospital in Providence; the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System; University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque; and University Hospital in Newark, N.J.

Facing criticism over its response to the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, the White House says that since Thanksgiving, over 800 military and other federal personnel have been deployed to 24 states and that 14,000 National Guard members have been activated in 49 states to help with everything from clinical care to administering vaccines. The deployments have been paid for by the federal government with funds from the American Rescue Plan.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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