The federal government reinitiates its program to provide FREE COVID tests for use at home
The federal government program that has been used in the last two winters to dispatch complimentary COVID tests to American households has resumed its operations as of Monday.
This decision by the government follows the recent completion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's efforts to introduce the latest COVID vaccine tailored to combat the prevalent variants, which pharmacies began offering shortly afterward.
Through the website CovidTests.Gov, each household can request four free rapid tests. This program is administered by the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for managing the federal COVID test stockpile.
The website offering free at-home tests has experienced intermittent availability since the winter of 2022 when the Omicron variant led to a surge in cases nationwide.
At that time, President Joe Biden pledged to distribute one billion free rapid tests to meet the surging demand and address the overwhelmed test manufacturing industry.
However, the site was temporarily deactivated during the fall due to a prolonged political dispute over COVID funding. Administration officials indicated that they needed to conserve tests in case an agreement with Republicans for additional funding couldn't be reached, which ultimately did not happen.
Nevertheless, the website was relaunched in December as cases started to rise again but was subsequently closed down in June.
The government has chosen to relaunch CovidTests.Gov once more in preparation for a winter surge in cases.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra stated, "We want them to be able to use those tests during this viral season—fall, winter, respiratory viral season."
These tests will be supplied through a $600 million investment in 12 different domestic test manufacturers, resulting in approximately 200 million tests being added to the federal stockpile. Tests ordered through CovidTests.Gov will be drawn from this stockpile.
Funding for these free tests will be sourced from leftover funds from a prior supplemental COVID bill. Although a debt ceiling agreement was reached during the summer between President Joe Biden and Republicans, reclaiming around $30 billion in unspent COVID relief funds, officials indicated that there were still sufficient funds remaining to replenish the testing stockpile this autumn.
Officials have not yet provided an estimate of how many tests they anticipate Americans will request, given the decreasing demand for COVID precautionary measures. Approximately 755 million tests have been distributed via the website in the last two years.
However, if there is increased demand in the future, the $600 million investment in U.S.-based COVID test companies made by the government will also help streamline supply lines and initiate the production process, as stated by Dawn O’Connell, the head of ASPR.
"Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans," O’Connell noted in a statement. "ASPR’s investments in these domestic manufacturers will increase availability of tests in the future."
Data for the week ending on September 9 showed a 7.7% increase in hospitalizations from 19,068 to 20,538 weekly hospitalizations. It is worth noting that this estimate is likely an undercount due to the reduced availability of data with the public health emergency no longer in effect.