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Sure you can order a free Covid test from the government now, but that's not enough.
If you’re the sort of person who believes in “better late than never,” then Tuesday’s one-day-early roll out of the Biden Administration’s criminally overdue portal to order covid tests delivered to your home is sure to be welcome news. And if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who died of covid since Biden took office almost exactly one year ago, well… sorry. The United States Government would have preferred you’d held out just a little longer.
Consider how we got to this point: after hemming and hawing its way through the overwhelmingly shitty bulk of 2021, the Biden White House finally came to inevitable conclusion that, in the midst of a catastrophic surge of the wildly contagious Omicron Covid variant, maybe it’d be a good idea to send quick, reliable testing kits to the general public, after all. Of course, they only came to this conclusion after getting their asses roundly torched for displaying sort of uniquely American callousness that really makes us the envy of the other nations on Earth, with their “competent pandemic responses” and “general concern for human wellbeing.”
“Should we just send one to every American?” Administration Press Secretary Jen Paski asked incredulously in early December. Just two weeks later, Psaki was forced to eat her words and announce that actually, that’s exactly what the White House would do after all, with the purchase of “a half-billion at-home, rapid tests this winter to be distributed for free to Americans who want them.” How about that!
Only, this is the Democratic party we’re talking about here, and there’s no single institution on Earth more adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. So when the White House rolled out its portal for people to order their rapid antigen tests on Tuesday — one day before the program’s scheduled launch date — it tossed in a few added hurdles, just to make an otherwise simple, straightforward, unambiguously good effort a liiiiittle more complicated.
For starters, it turns out users can only order four tests. Not at a time. In general. For their entire address. Where does that leave people in households with, say, more than four people? Households with, say, multiple kids, or to which elderly parents/grandparents have moved back to be cared for by their family? You know, two groups uniquely at risk during our ongoing pandemic? Great question! (the answer: fucked).
As it happens, this also leaves people living in apartment buildings at a distinct disadvantage, depending on how they — or other people in their building — enter their information into the order form, as dozens of people immediately started reporting issues with the form online:
What’s more, keep in mind that this whole process still requires people to request their own tests, rather than the government simply sending kits en masse to everyone (as Psaki later claimed, that might result in millions of wasted tests, which…fine? Who gives a shit?) meaning there’s one more unnecessary hurdle to leap before you actually get a swab to stick on your nose.
Are these fixable problems? Absolutely. But the fact that the website for ordering these four — and, pending further notice, only four – tests has been hovering between 500,000-700,000 users at a time, all day since launch, should give you a sense of just how much easier, less restrictive, altogether better this whole thing could have been. Especially considering we’re now entering the third year of this pandemic — well beyond the time when this sort of wholesale federal effort would have been maximally effective.
Still, a covid test is better than none, and four tests are better than one. But take a step back, and look at this through the rosiest colored glasses; ignore the onus being on the person rather than the government; ignore that there’s a limit of four per household; and ignore that apartment-dwellers are getting glitched out of participation. Even if you excuse all that stuff away, and take what is an admittedly easy sign-up process to get vital testing kits sent to you as an unambiguous net positive, then I encourage you to take a moment and really appreciate just how pathetically shitty the Biden Administration’s initial plan looks by comparison.
Now that we know the government can roll out a relatively smoothly functioning, minimally invasive test request form, the notion that they initially wanted people to shell out money up front, and then haggle with their private insurance provider (assuming they even have one!) for reimbursement is all the more offensively ludicrous by comparison. And the major reason we’re not going down that route is because Psaki shit the bed so badly that the White House was essentially shamed into doing the right thing.
We should celebrate the fact that tests are now being made available for free. It’s a good thing done (relatively) well. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing that a hard fought good is a replacement for what could have been an easily implemented great. I’m glad I have tests coming my way. I’m glad that, for the time being, I don’t have to worry about me, my wife, or my kids standing on line for hours on end, just to get swabbed. I’m glad the government made a website that (mostly) fucking works! But I refuse to believe that after two years of this shit, this is what counts for maximum competency.
We’re still being shoved into the covid machine without a clear way out. Being graciously allowed to politely request few free tests like a Dickens orphan is a start. But absent the political will to do anything more, that’s all it is.