NEWS

COVID.gov: What the New Federal Website Can—and Can't—Do For You

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Laura Porter / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • COVID.gov can help you find locations for vaccines, booster shots, testing, and treatment.
  • You can use the site to order up to eight home test kits for COVID-19.
  • The White House is currently waiting for much-needed COVID-19 funding from Congress. If the money isn’t granted, the White House may not be able to provide some of the services listed on the new website.

On March 30, the White House launched COVID.gov to help people access COVID-19 transmission information, vaccine appointments, tests, treatments, masks, and educational resources. 

The “one-stop shop website,” as the Biden Administration describes the site in a press release, primarily serves to consolidate COVID-19 information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While health experts think the site will be useful, the lack of real-time information is a major point of criticism.

“I think that this website does not offer that much more than was previously available, except everything is on one website and easily accessible to the public,” Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious disease at Mount Sinai South Nassau in West Hempstead, NY, told Verywell. “Healthcare providers will probably need to dig deeper. But for the average layperson, it should be fine.” 

The first component of the page is interactive and tailored to the individual; users can search for a county to learn the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the area. But beyond that, users must click out to other websites, like Vaccines.gov, to search for vaccines in their zip code, or a site powered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to find medications for COVID-19 locally.

Languages and Accessibility

COVID.gov is available in English, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese. Information is also available by phone at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489). That number supports over 150 languages, according to the White House. For individuals with disabilities who may need additional support, the Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) is available to help at 1-888-677-1199 or via email at DIAL@usaginganddisability.org.

How Should You Use the Site?

Public health experts think COVID.gov can be a helpful resource to stay abreast of COVID-19 transmission risk. It can also help people learn about what types of prevention and treatment methods are right for them.

“I’d advise people to check the page regularly—at least weekly, as they do a weather forecast—to see if anything has changed about community transmission where they live,” emergency physician Leana Wen, MD, professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, told Verywell.

Wen adds people can also use the site “to map out their plan if they do contract COVID, like where they would go to get testing and which treatments they’d qualify for.”

Actually connecting users to those treatments, however, may be slightly beyond the capabilities of the site right now.

Kavita Patel, MD, a primary care physician in Washington, DC, and health official during the Obama Administration, told Verywell that the section about Test-to-Treat locations is linked to a federal database of pharmacies with COVID-19 antiviral pills, which is “completely inaccurate and a problem.”

Patel said the federal database is not 100% reflective of current local antiviral supply.

“Because Test-to-Treat requires a real-time sense of pharmaceutical inventory, there probably needs to be a different way to display the limitations on the COVID.org website,” she said.

What Is Test-to-Treat?

Test-to-Treat is a White House initiative to allow for quicker administration of COVID-19 antiviral pills. Those who are eligible will be able to take a test at a pharmacy and receive prescription medication right away if they test positive.

How the Site Can Fall Short

Maintaining an accurate representation of inventory for COVID-19 antiviral medications like Paxlovid is especially important, because it’s a drug patients have to seek out on their own. 

When Alex Star,* a cancer patient near Boston, returned from a trip earlier this week and tested positive for COVID-19, he consulted COVID.gov before contacting his doctor about a prescription for Paxlovid. Star told Verywell his doctor wanted him to start the drug immediately—it’s most effective within five days of symptom onset—and sent him to a pharmacy that didn’t appear on the COVID.gov database.

Because his hospital’s cancer staff is constantly monitoring COVID-19 antiviral supply, Star’s doctor knew there was only one pharmacy in the area with Paxlovid on hand, and that the database was out of date.

If Congress doesn’t provide COVID-19 relief funding that Biden requested, COVID.gov could prove even less useful to consumers. According to a White House fact sheet released this week, the Biden Administration needs $22.5 billion in immediate emergency funds. 

Because of the lack of funding, over the last two weeks, the Administration has begun to cut back on many of the modalities COVID.gov is supposed to point to, like monoclonal antibody treatments and vaccines for the prevention of COVID-19 in the future.

“If we fail to invest,” President Biden said in a speech announcing the new website this week, “we leave ourselves vulnerable if another wave of the virus hits.”

*Name has been changed for privacy.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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