The Federal government’s new website for ordering free at-home COVID-19 tests went live on Jan. 18, drawing over 68 million users to the site over the past week without suffering much in the way of notable performance problems.
At times, the COVIDTests.gov website was the most-visited Federal government website, reaching over 700,000 visitors at once on Jan. 18, according to analytics.usa.gov.
As of this morning, the most-visited Federal website from the past week was the United States Postal Service (USPS) order page – the page COVIDTests.gov brings visitors to when they order their at-home COVID-19 tests. The USPS order page had over 71 million visitors over the past week.
The successful launch of the website can largely be attributed to the design and implementation of the site’s cloud architecture, according to Paul Smith, chief technology officer and co-founder of Ad Hoc. Smith was also a member of the team that fixed HealthCare.gov after its troubled launch.
In 2013, the HealthCare.gov website went down within two hours of its launch due to the high-website demand of about 250,000 users. However, at that time, Smith said “the state of the art in government was to administer servers in private data centers with numerous moving parts and failure modes without the resources and experience to handle intense public demand and traffic.”
“Simple, dependable architectures such as the one COVIDTests.gov seems to employ are proven at scale,” Smith said in a blog post. “This affords agencies the space to focus on improved user experience and service delivery, rather than consuming large resources keeping sites up and running.”
“Scalable web services are, in 2022, a commodity available to all. There is no excuse for getting this wrong. It’s heartening to see that the team seems to have gotten it right,” Smith added.
The website’s execution has not been entirely perfect. Because tests are limited to four per residential address, some users who live in apartment buildings faced an error message saying that someone had already ordered tests for their address.
Nevertheless, USPS encouraged users to file a service request or call the help desk at 1-800-275-8777 if they run into this issue.
“Every website launch, in our view, comes with risk. We can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said on Jan.18. “But the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success.”
The Biden administration partnered with the USPS to package and deliver tests to Americans. On the back end, the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) provided support for the website launch. To meet the demand, USDS put in place monitoring tools based on industry best practices.
The tests should ship within seven to 12 days of ordering, but the administration expects this timeframe to decrease in the future. In fact, some users have already received their at-home test kits, at “lightning speed,” as one Twitter user said.
For those who have yet to take advantage of the COVIDTests.gov website, at-home tests are still available.