Is it OK to order something offered for free if you're not sure you'll use it yourself?
Here's why I ask. On Wednesday, Jan. 19, the U.S. government launched a website (https://www.covidtests.gov/) and toll-free telephone number (1-800-232-0233, TTY 1-888-720-7489) from which U.S. residents could order four free at-home rapid COVID test kits. Each household address was limited to receiving the four free tests, which would ship from the United States Postal Service (USPS) seven to 12 days after they were ordered.
The announcement came as welcome news for many people, particularly after an increase in COVID cases at the end of last year, when at-home test kits at local pharmacies sold out quickly and ran about $20 for two at-home tests. If people wanted to spend time with family or others over the holidays but wanted to take the precaution of doing an at-home test first, it was not always a given they could find a test kit to use.The website is simple enough to use. "Order your tests now so you have them when you need them" greets visitors to the site's homepage. Then, with a click on the "order free at-home tests" link, users are taken to a USPS site and simply fill out their shipping information.
Not long after news of the free at-home test kits went out, I began to receive questions from readers. Some wanted to know whether it was wrong to order the free test kits if they weren't sure they'd be using them since they rarely left their house. Others who owned a second house wondered whether it would be wrong to order a second set of kits to be sent there. Still others wondered whether there was something untoward about taking advantage of the free offer when they could afford to buy test kits and so far had managed not to have any trouble finding them on the shelves of their local pharmacies.
My short answer to each of these variants of the question is: Order the tests.
Take to heart that message on the https://www.covidtests.gov/ homepage to "order your tests now so you have them when you need them." You might not plan to leave your home, but plans have a way of changing and you don't know now whether you might need to invite someone else into your home to fix something like a leaky cast-iron drain pipe behind your kitchen cabinets. Ordering for both homes you own might seem inappropriate, but what if you are at that other home where your free test kits aren't when you might need to take them? If you can afford to buy a test kit, go ahead and order the free ones to use as back up or to have on hand if a neighbor or family member is in need and doesn't have any kits available.
The right thing is to decide how you want to keep yourself and others safe. If that involves having an at-home test kit on hand, go to the website or call the toll-free number and place an order today with no guilt whatsoever.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.