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Here's How To Troubleshoot Ordering Your Free At-Home COVID Tests

A person wearing blue rubber gloves hands two boxes of "BINAX NOW" COVID-19 rapid tests to someone else. They're both standing outside on a sidewalk.
Binax COVID-19 testing kits are handed out in the Bensonhurst section of the Brooklyn borough of New York City on December 23, 2021.
(Bryan R. Smith
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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We‘ve been telling you this week how to get four free COVID tests from a new federal website.

For many, ordering the tests has been a pretty straightforward process. But some — such as those who live at an address that houses multiple households, like an apartment building — are getting a message that someone has already ordered from that address, blocking them from ordering a set of kits for themselves.

So we reached out to the United States Postal Service to see what’s going on.

“The Postal Service is seeing very limited cases of addresses that are not registered as multi-unit buildings, which could lead to COVID test kit ordering difficulties,” a spokesperson told LAist in a written statement. “This is occurring in a small percentage of orders.”

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The USPS did not provide a specific percentage or number of users affected.

For those of you COVID test-less because of these technical difficulties, here are some things to try:

If You Live In An Apartment Building

Candice Kim, a volunteer vaccine navigator who lately has also been helping people locate COVID tests, says that most people she has spoken with were able to order a test without many issues.

But among those who have had challenges, Kim said, "the number one thing I've heard is people living in multi-family housing can get a message saying someone's already claimed the test for your building, even if you live in a different unit than them."

If you get the message “At home COVID-19 tests have already been ordered from this addressm” try entering your apartment number on the same line as your street name and number.

For example, instead of “100 Main Street” in the Street Address field and “Apt 1” in the Apt / Suite / Other field, try writing: “100 Main Street Apt 1” in the Street Address field.

The USPS’s FAQ page reads, “Some residents of multi-unit buildings may have difficulty placing orders because the Postal Service system does not recognize the address being entered as a single residence within a multi-unit building. For help, please file a service request.”

If You Don’t Have A Residential Address

We asked the USPS about people in this situation, like those who are experiencing homelessness. They have not gotten back to us with specific steps to take; we will update this post if they do.

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“We apologize, but orders can only be placed for home or residential P.O. Box delivery. This program was designed to send the free tests directly to your home through the mail,” the USPS' FAQ reads.

The postal service says it cannot deliver the test kits to a business address or business P.O. box, and you cannot pick up your tests at the post office.

If The System Doesn’t Recognize Your Residential Address

The USPS suggests going through a process called “validating your address.”

From their FAQ:

“To confirm proper formatting of your address, please refer to USPS.com Look Up a ZIP Code™. Once you validate your address, you may attempt ordering your tests again.

If You’re Still Running Into Trouble Ordering Your Test

The USPS says you can reach them through this online form.

If You Need The Request Form Translated Into Another Language

The test order site is available in Español and 简体中文 — click on the language you need in the upper right-hand corner.

If You Don't Have Consistent Access To The Internet

Try calling the helpline at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489). It has options for using the helpline in multiple languages, including Spanish.

If You Want To Help Others Order Their Tests, Too

Candice Kim, the volunteer who helps Southern Californians navigate the vaccination and testing systems, encourages those who successfully ordered their own tests to check in on others who might not know these are available or may run into the language or technology "speed bumps."

"Don't assume people know about this program," Kim said. "As we all know, it's been really difficult to consistently find these antigen tests, or even sometimes PCR test appointments. So we're still in that moment where we need to help each other."

Your Other Options For Getting Tested In Southern California

The four free at-home COVID test kits provided by the federal government via the USPS are one way to get tested for COVID-19.

They aren’t the only way, though.

In Los Angeles County, you can also pick up a free PCR test kit, swab yourself, and drop it back off for processing. We have a list of pick up and drop off locations here.

These aren’t rapid tests like the other at-home test kits, but the county says you should get your results “within 24-48 hours after the lab receives your sample.” One thing to keep in mind, though: while you won’t need an appointment to test this way, you will need a smartphone and an email address to use this kit, as that’s how you’ll register your test and get your results.

You can also go in-person to a testing site. The county suggests first going through your health provider or insurance if you have that, then through your job if it offers testing. If not, then it suggests seeking a county testing site. If you can’t find an appointment, try using the “no appointment necessary” filter.

And if you have health insurance, the White House said it will require insurance providers make at-home COVID-19 tests free to you – or reimburse you for the cost – for up to “eight free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month,” according to NPR’s guide.

We’ve asked the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services if and how they're getting tests to people who don't have internet access or a permanent residential address, and will update this story if we hear back. If you have any tips to share, reach out to reporter Carla Javier at cjavier@scpr.org

KPCC producer Phoenix Tso contributed reporting to this story.