The White House said Tuesday that Americans are now eligible for a third order of free home coronavirus tests, sent through the Postal Service. The move doubled the total number of tests the program has made available to each household to 16.
The tests, approved by the Food and Drug Administration and available on the federal website covidtests.gov, expand on a promise President Biden made during the brunt of the Omicron surge this winter, when Americans faced tight test supplies, empty shelves and long lines .
With scathing criticism of these shortages, Mr Biden pledged a billion home tests and his administration secured pledges for hundreds of millions of them. The White House has said half of them would be distributed through the Postal Service. Over 70 million US homes — more than half the country’s households — have so far ordered tests this way, and around 350 million tests have been delivered.
The opportunity to order more testing comes at a still dangerous moment in the pandemic. The average number of new confirmed cases reported daily in the United States has tripled since early April, reaching more than 95,000 Monday, according to a New York Times database. Hospital admissions are also up 26 percent nationwide in the past two weeks. New deaths from the virus have dropped to about 300 a day on average — which public health experts say partly reflects the protection against serious illnesses that many Americans have acquired through vaccination or overcoming a previous coronavirus infection.
Rapid at-home tests, which typically provide results within 15 minutes, have become increasingly common and accessible in pharmacies, making the total number of virus cases across the country harder to track. People who test positive with home testing typically don’t report the results to local health departments, leaving many new infections uncounted.
As more transmissible forms of the virus have spread in recent months, testing continues to be a crucial resource for many Americans, including those who can quickly diagnose an infection and receive antiviral treatments like Paxlovid.
The number of Paxlovid courses administered has increased by more than 300 percent in the past month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
dr Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said Tuesday that the new round of at-home testing is an important resource in helping people avoid spreading the virus.
“Are you going to a big gathering? Use rapid tests to avoid being the person bringing Covid to the party,” wrote Dr. Yes on Twitter. “Visit a vulnerable relative? Use quick tests to protect them.”
The White House has warned that without more funding from Congress, the administration may not be able to “sustain” domestic test manufacturing this year, potentially leading to companies shutting down production and making the nation more blind to it make the virus when the demand for the tests should rise and remain unmet.
Manufacturers can continue to churn out the tests, according to Mara Aspinall, a biomedical diagnostics expert at Arizona State University who is on the board of directors of OraSure, which makes coronavirus tests. Manufacturers who have received federal approval could do an estimated 422 million home rapid tests this month and 402 million next month, compared with a peak of 535 million in February, according to figures collected by Ms Aspinall.