Why the free COVID test website was such a shock

What was so great about the launch? Compared to the experience of, say, applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Paycheck Protection Program, or for that matter, what an insurance company is likely to put subscribers through to get a Covid test reimbursement, the request form was a breeze. It didn’t ask a million bureaucratic questions. The language was simple. It worked on smartphones, even older or slower ones. The website didn’t fall over under traffic that approached a million concurrent users. It wasn’t plastered with ads and deceptive requests for personal data like so many private-sector sites these days.

All of this seems basic, and yet Americans were shocked and elated by how easy it was. Many people were able to complete the request form in well under a minute, without feeling burdened or mistreated. Not much is a breeze for Americans right now, and a lot of us blame our leaders. One reason we may distrust the government is how painful it can be to interact with it (and the more we need government services, the more painful, unfortunately). Many people were outraged by how bureaucratic and difficult to navigate the Covid vaccine registration websites were last spring, especially in the early days when supply was limited and a half an hour searching might end without an appointment. This site is a glimmer of a different reality, one that suggests care and respect.