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You have only 4 free COVID tests. When should you use them?

Dr. Nancy Nielsen
Sandra Kicman
University at Buffalo
Dr. Nancy Nielsen

The U.S. Postal Service has begun taking orders for free at-home coronavirus test kits.

The website COVIDtests.gov was originally slated to begin taking orders on Wednesday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the site is in the "beta testing" stage and "will be launched formally tomorrow morning [Wednesday]."

Each household order will contain four rapid tests, which the Postal Service said will be shipped for free "in late January."

"You only get four. So unless you want to go by more, then use them judiciously," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, a former president of the American Medical Association and University at Buffalo clinical professor, during her biweekly chat with WBFO's Jay Moran.

"And here are the circumstances. If you have symptoms of fever and upper respiratory infection, anything that makes you think you might have COVID, then use one. Another situation is if you were exposed to somebody that called you and said, 'You know, I tested positive,' use the test five days after you encountered that person. Not the next day, that's too soon. Five days later," Nielsen said.

"And then the third circumstance is the one where you know if you're going to be with a large gathering of family members and that sort of thing, and you want to try to to have a little insurance policy that you're not infectious. The caveat there, as we've talked about before, is that a single test is great if you're symptomatic and it's positive, but you can be infected and not yet test positive on the rapid antigen test. So you're better off testing several days in a row."

The White House says it will prioritize shipments to Americans from ZIP codes that have experienced high rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with the first 20% of each day's orders going to those areas.

There will also be a phone number so those without access to computers or high-speed internet can place orders. Some 700,000 people were on the test kit website at one point Tuesday afternoon. (Click here to see how many users are on the site.)

Some on Twitter reported problems with orders from residents of apartment buildings with multiple units being told that someone from that household had already ordered the tests.

According to the Associated Press: "There were isolated reports Tuesday afternoon of issues relating to the website's address verification tool erroneously enforcing the four-per-household cap on apartment buildings and other multi-unit dwellings, but it was not immediately clear how widespread the issue was."

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.