Officials had said that orders would begin Wednesday, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Tuesday that a "beta testing phase" of the site had gone live as a way to test the system before a full rollout Wednesday.
The website, COVIDTests.gov, now includes a link for Americans to order up four at-home tests per residential address, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. The orders are then submitted at special.usps.com/testkits.
It's not yet known whether orders will continue to be accepted throughout the day Tuesday or if it will be cut off at some point before Wednesday's official launch.
There were isolated reports Tuesday afternoon of problems relating to the website’s address verification tool erroneously enforcing the four-per-household cap on apartment buildings and other multi-unit dwellings. A spokesperson for the Postal Service said in a statement that the error was “occurring in a small percentage of orders.” He said any user needing assistance could file a service request at emailus.usps.com/s/the-postal-store-inquiry or contact a help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
At points Tuesday more than 750,000 people were accessing the website at the same time, according to public government tracking data, but it was not immediately known how many orders were placed.
Psaki added that the administration was anticipating a “bug or two," but had IT experts from across the government working to get the site ready.
The website is part of the Biden administration's plan to fight the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19. The federal government is limiting the number of tests any household can order due to projected high demand. Four tests can be shipped per household, not per person.
The White House said when announcing this plan that more tests could go out at some point to each household, but that depends on supply.
The tests have been in short supply for the past several months as COVID cases tied to the highly contagious omicron variant have surged and people traveled for the holiday season.
But these tests are not designed to be shipped out to your house once you start feeling sick.
The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the U.S. Postal Service.
Americans will need to request the tests well before they meet the guidelines for requiring them since USPS shipping times are at least 1-3 days. The tests should be ordered and kept until somebody in your household starts to feel sick with COVID-like symptoms.
Those symptoms include fever, sore throat, respiratory issues and muscle aches.
You should also be tested a few days after you've had close contact with somebody who has contracted COVID-19.
If you don't want to wait until the tests are shipped to your home, you can pick some up at a pharmacy under your insurance.
As of Jan. 15, private insurers were required by the Biden administration to cover the cost of up to eight at-home rapid tests per month, per insured person.
People seeking to take that option can buy the tests themselves, then seek reimbursement from their insurance provider. Although there are reportedly plans in the works between insurers and pharmacies to cover the out-of-pocket costs of getting a test, those plans have not found widespread traction yet.
Answering questions about free COVID tests from the federal government
Here are some of the answers the Biden administration has provided on covidtests.gov on key questions for those trying to order free COVID-tests
Can I order more than 4 tests if I live in a large or multigenerational household?
No. To promote broad access, the initial program will only allow 4 free individual tests per residential address.
There are numerous other options to get tested for free, including over 20,000 free testing sites across the country. If you have health insurance, your insurance will also cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home tests (up to 8 at-home tests per month for each person on your plan).
Can I track the status of my free COVID tests?
Yes. There is an option for you to provide an email address to receive email notifications with shipping updates.
Once your order is shipped, you will receive an email with an estimated delivery date and a tracking number. You can track the status of your delivery on USPS.com.
All orders within the continental United States will be sent through First Class Package Service. Shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. Territories, and overseas military and diplomatic addresses (APO/FPO/DPO) will be sent through Priority Mail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report