Free COVID tests from government can now be ordered over the phone, too. What to know

·3 min read
David Dermer/AP

People in the United States can now order free at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests over the phone in addition to the government’s newly launched website.

The phone line can be called at 800-232-0233 and was created to help those who might be unable to get on the internet and order the test kits online, according to the White House. This comes as health officials continue to track the spread of the infectious omicron coronavirus variant.

The line went live at 8 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 21, and is available in English, Spanish and 150 different languages, NBC News reported.

President Joe Biden’s administration initially announced in a Jan. 14 news release that it’s buying 1 billion at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests to mail to Americans who order them. Of those, 500 million were available as of Wednesday, Jan. 19.

If the COVID-19 test phone number seems familiar, that’s because it’s also the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccination assistance hotline that can help people find a COVID-19 vaccine provider.

When calling, it provides an automated prompt to either request a COVID-19 at-home test or information on nearby locations that offer vaccines. When seeking tests, it suggests visiting the website, COVIDtests.gov, but continues to address those who don’t have internet or need assistance for help ordering a test kit.

The White House said it’s providing four COVID-19 tests for each household through the phone line or website “to promote broad access.” It said the tests can take anywhere from a week to 12 days to ship after an order is placed.

Some people have encountered problems with ordering the tests online, McClatchy News reported, and have gotten an “error” message. This has been reported by people who live in multi-family homes or those who live in apartment buildings attached to a commercial building. However, there are trouble-shooting solutions available in some cases.

The Biden administration is working “with national and local community-based organizations to support the nation’s hardest-hit and highest-risk communities in requesting tests,” it said Jan. 14.

Alongside the government website and hotline, there are other options for Americans to get tested for COVID-19, the White House said, including at over 20,000 free sites nationwide, at local pharmacies — such as CVS and Walgreens — and free federal testing sites.

“This month, the number of at-home, rapid tests available to the U.S. market will rise to 375 million—in addition to the free tests available through COVIDTests.gov,” according to the release.

The United States Postal Service has partnered with the White House to deliver the at-home tests.

Also, “10 million more” COVID-19 tests will be provided to U.S. schools to help them “safely remain open,” according to the Biden administration.

The president has been in office for a year as of Thursday, Jan. 20.

“We went from 2 million people being vaccinated at the moment I was sworn in to 210 million Americans being fully vaccinated today,” Biden announced during a Jan. 19 speech.

He called omicron “the new enemy” and said while it’s a “concern, it’s not cause for panic.”

So far, 75% of the U.S. adult population is fully vaccinated, according to Biden, who advised everyone to get a booster shot.

“The bottom line on COVID-19 is that we are in a better place than we’ve been and have been thus far, clearly better than a year ago,” Biden said. “We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re not going back to closing schools. Schools should stay open.”