Post Office Prepares to Deliver 500 Million At-home COVID-19 Test Kits

With a successful holiday delivery season in its rearview mirror, the U.S. Postal Service is hurriedly preparing for its next big challenge: delivering 500 million rapid at-home test kits to American homes.

While the idea for home test kits was up for discussion months ago, talks have heated up in the new year, as nationwide cases have increased exponentially since the Christmas holiday. Demand for testing has overwhelmed supply, and White House officials hope their new plan will help address that issue.

"As Omicron spreads easily it is critically important that we know who is infected," President Joe Biden said in a recent national address. "That means we need more testing... and we are not where we should be."

"The federal government will purchase half a billion additional at-home rapid tests with deliveries starting in January," he added. "We will be getting these tests to Americans for free and have websites where you can get them delivered to your home."

While full details of the plan have yet to be released, a source close to the situation says that the White House aims to begin shipping the kits by January 15.

"We are actively finalizing the details of the distribution mechanism, including a website as we've talked about," Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday. "I would expect us to provide those details next week, and yes, these tests will be sent out through the mail."

She added that the first contracts for the project have already been signed, with Goldbelt Security and Revival Health Inc. receiving millions of dollars to help deliver and manufacture the testing kits.

While the White House keeps additional details under wrap, USPS officials have publicly acknowledged the plan is in the works. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement that the Postal Service was "proud to fulfill its mission of service" by delivering the at-home tests.

"The 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service are ready to deliver and proud to play a critical role in supporting the health needs of the American public," DeJoy said in an official statement.

"We have been working closely with the administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits on the first day the program launches," he added.

As cases continue to rise, testing is essential for getting the recent COVID surges under control and preventing others in the future, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS's Face the Nation. Without access to reliable testing, people are more likely to spread the infection.

"What is driving the pandemic right now is the fact that we are probably only diagnosing 1 in 5, or 1 in 10, actual infections," he said. "There are a lot of people walking around with mild illnesses or asymptomatic infections who do not know it, and who are spreading it."

In 2021, Gottlieb expressed support for the idea of sending free tests to every home, telling CBS in September, "I think every household should have a supply of at-home tests."

Asked about the White House plan announced last week, he said, "We started this late, and we should have done this earlier."

The White House hopes this program will help curb the spread of COVID-19, while USPS sees it as another opportunity to prove it can still live up to its legacy of service in times of crisis.

The USPS successfully delivered 13.2 billion parcels in its busiest holiday season ever.

Boasting a near 90% on-time delivery rate for first class mail, Post Office officials see this as confirmation that the correct decisions have been made by leadership and that the Postal Service is back on the right track.

"They prepared this time and took the steps, like additional hiring and additional facilities, which seems to have paid off," Chris Shaw, postal expert and author of First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat, told Newsweek.

He said the USPS is perfectly situated to handle this task.

"The Postal Service has a unique position because it's everywhere in the country," Shaw said.

Using the Civil War, the Cold War and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as examples, he argued that the Postal Service has "played an important role in all sorts of historic national security and health security issues."

Shaw is confident that the USPS is up to the challenge posed by the mass mailing of test kits, because it has already built the logistics and shipping capacity.

"The volume is not overwhelming," he said. "and this kind of medical item is something that they have a lot of experience with delivering."

Shaw said this is an opportunity for the federal government and the Post Office to come together and make a real difference on an important issue.

"It shows the Postal Service contributing to society and the broader role that it can play," he said.

"It makes people aware of the potential of the agency, how it can contribute in moments of crisis or emergency, and how it can step into situations to really be an aid," he added.

Massachusetts, COVID, testing
"We have been working closely with the administration and are well prepared to accept and deliver test kits on the first day the program launches," U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said. Above, rapid at-home test kits are handed out to people at Chelsea Community Connections in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on Friday, Dec. 17. Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images