With the holidays approaching and a possible increase in cases this winter, the government is once again allowing households to order a new wave of four COVID-19 tests online for free.
The website, covidtests.govremains one of the last ways for Americans to get a free rapid test at home after the end of the public health emergency last spring, which ended the requirement for insurance companies to cover eight tests per month.
Over the past three years, the return of winter has also led to a resurgence of COVID-19. According to modeling data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health officials expect similar numbers of hospitalizations this year to last year, which topped nearly 45,000 per week at its peak. .
The test order site relaunched last monthoffering four tests per household, and will now offer four additional tests per household for anyone who has already ordered – or eight tests per household for anyone who has not yet placed an order this fall.
From Septemberabout 14.5 million households have ordered tests, for a total of 58 million tests shipped, according to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, or ASPR, a department of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Health officials said they hope people will take advantage of the free testing to better prepare for gatherings with others, especially those who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, during the holiday season.
“We’re going to see families coming together with older loved ones and younger loved ones and it’s important that they can protect their loved ones from COVID as we head into the winter months,” said Dawn O’Connell, manager of the ASPR.
“So we think opening up (COVIDTests.Gov) right before the start of the winter break will be very important for the American people to once again provide that access to the four free tests,” she said .
Some of the free tests the government has stockpiled also face looming expiration dates, another reason to move up testing, O’Connell said. The Food and Drug Administration recently extended the expiration dates of many at-home tests, but their shelf life remains relatively short.
“We know the testing will be good over the next few months. It won’t be good forever. So we think it’s important to move forward and get it into the hands of the American people so they can use them and protect yourself as winter approaches,” O’Connell said.
The free at-home testing website has been present on and off since winter 2022, when the omicron variant was causing cases to rise across the country.
At the time, President Joe Biden pledged to distribute 1 billion free rapid tests to alleviate growing demand and an overwhelmed test manufacturing industry.
But the government site was temporarily closed this fall for political fight was delayed due to COVID-19 funding. Administration officials said they needed to keep the tests in case they didn’t get agreement from Republicans to allocate more money — which they didn’t get.
Conservatives have become more skeptical of continually providing billions to respond to the pandemic, including pointing to fraud that has tainted some of the aid.
The testing site RELAUNCH again in December 2022, as cases began to rise again, then stopping last June, before restarting in September this year.
The tests will come from a $600 million investment in domestic test manufacturers, which will produce about 200 million tests and replenish the federal stockpile. Tests ordered on covidtests.gov will be taken from this stock.
Funding for this $600 million investment will come from money left over from a previous COVID-19 supplemental bill. Although the debt ceiling deal reached this summer between Biden and congressional Republicans recouped about $30 billion in unspent relief funds, administration officials said there was still enough funds to replenish the testing stock this fall.