The Biden administration launched its website for Americans to request free at-home Covid-19 tests.The website, COVIDTests.gov, now includes a link for Americans to an order form run by the U.S. Postal Service where Americans can request four at-home tests per residential address. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

Like many residents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Cory True doesn’t have a mailbox outside his front door. For many people who call the reservation home, a post office box is how they receive their mail.

For True, a trip to the post office is about 16 miles roundtrip. According to the USPS report from 2019, he is among 24% of rural Americans using a PO box.

As the federal government announced it would deliver 500 million at-home Covid-19 test kits starting January 19, some people, including those in rural America and Indian Country, are being left to figure out how to obtain the kits in a timely fashion. 

Ordering the free tests requires an internet connection. (Click to visit the test-ordering site.)

“Living in the middle of nowhere, I’m grateful that I don’t have to drive 200-miles to Rapid City [South Dakota] to look for them in person,” True said in an email interview with the Daily Yonder. “South Dakota has no state-sponsored West-River public testing sites.” (West River is the half of the state that lies west of the Missouri.)

The kits delivered to his PO box will alleviate some of that hassle, but there are still some drawbacks for people living in certain areas of the United States. 

First, there’s already the issue with the U.S. postal system and delays in delivery, said Christopher Shaw, author of First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat.

“Then there’s also the website, which is new, and just came online,” Shaw said in a phone interview with the Daily Yonder. “And I’m hearing that there’s some glitches with that. So we’ll have to get those ironed out. If people are at an address, where there’s more than one household and address and one household has already ordered from that address, there could be some confusion.”

Another issue is that in some parts of rural America there are no street addresses to enter into the ordering system, he said. 

Aside from the USPS issues, Shaw said getting online to order the tests may be an issues for some residents.

“If you’re in a rural place where you don’t really have access to the internet, which is a sizable number of people in this country, then how are you going to use the website to order in the first place?” he said. 

Still, both Shaw and True are pleased that the government is trying to find a solution to the Covid pandemic. 

“It’s a really wonderful resource to be able to deliver these kits, and it’s a way the federal government is able to actually contact every American, everyone in this country, really. So I think that’s pretty impressive,” Shaw said. 

True noted that having tests on hand will cut down on wait times for results. He has done at-home tests before that required ordering, waiting for UPS to deliver, scheduling a Zoom session for someone to supervise the test, and returning it via UPS to Minneapolis for results. 

“It took over a week the last time I tested from ordering to getting my results. Obviously with that kind of delay, the point of testing is almost useless,” he said. “At least with these tests we don’t have to wait for the return shipping to a lab for some insight on whether we need to pursue further testing, should quarantine, and so on.”

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