The Tuesday news that the Biden administration's free rapid Covid-19 test site had gone online a day early, part of a quiet beta launch to test the site, rocketed through social media with such intensity that I was sure the site would crash.
I was already skeptical -- my experience of new government websites is forever tarnished by the debacle of healthcare.gov's initial crash and burn. Plus, when I logged on, I knew I only had a few minutes between meetings, and I've never met a government website that didn't require two forms of ID, proof of residency and endless forms to fill out.
Still, I clicked. Two minutes later, I had an email telling me that the tests would be on their way in a few weeks.
While I can't remember the last time I encountered a government website that worked, I do remember having a similar feeling last spring, when suddenly vaccines were being competently distributed, appointments were plentiful and safety seemed on the horizon. Alas, the rise of the Delta and Omicron variants since then, and the lack of a robust response from our leaders as cases surged, has made it harder to feel optimistic in a way that lasts.
Putting all the doom we've been through aside for a moment, the relative ease of the website -- combined with the sense that the Biden administration is newly recommitted to providing resources to Americans -- feels like it could be a sign of brighter days ahead.
That's assuming the United States Postal Service has recovered sufficiently from cuts under the Trump administration and is up to the task. On the one hand, this is a moment that will reassure us that direct government action in mitigating the pandemic can work. On the other, if it does work, it raises the question of why the federal government isn't doing more.
For instance, the Biden administration announced Tuesday that N95 masks are going to be distributed for free through pharmacies, but why not just add them as an option to the test site? And, speaking of the test site, critics have rightly pointed out that the limit of four tests per address neglects the reality of many Americans' lives, where multiple family members and/or generations co-reside.