WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is once again offering Americans the opportunity to order free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests from the federal government, a program that it had shuttered amid an ongoing stalemate with Congress over additional funding to address the virus.
The program will allow each household to order four free COVID-19 tests as part of the White House’s plans to try to tamp down the number of diagnoses this winter amid an increase in coronavirus, flu and RSV.
“While COVID-19 is not the disruptive force it once was, the virus continues to evolve, and cases are on the rise again as families are spending more time indoors and gathering for the holidays,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet about its efforts this winter.
The free COVID-19 test kits can be ordered through COVIDTests.gov or by calling 1-800-232-0233 between 8 a.m. and midnight Eastern.
Preparing for winter
The Biden administration’s winter preparedness plan focuses predominantly on vaccination, with proposals to hold pop-up clinics and work with governors to increase nursing home vaccination rates. Health officials also are calling on hospitals to offer patients a shot before discharging unvaccinated patients, or those who aren’t up-to-date on their boosters.
More than 267 million people, or 80% of the U.S. population, have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But those numbers decrease over time, with 229 million, or 69% completing the two-dose primary series. And just 42 million people have gotten the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that public health officials approved in September, according to CDC data.
The weekly death total from COVID-19 has remained relatively steady since mid-April, when about 3,000 Americans were dying of the virus weekly. That number dipped a bit over the summer, but has stayed about the same throughout the fall and into winter. For the week of Dec. 7, another 2,981 people died of the virus, according to the CDC.
The Biden administration said its plan for the winter will continue focusing on the highest risk people, including “residents of nursing homes and other congregate care facilities, where we know vaccination rates remain too low.”
“This also includes older Americans, individuals who are immunocompromised, disabled individuals, and others who face a higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19,” the White House wrote in its fact sheet.
The Biden administration plans to send nursing home and long-term-care facility administrators a playbook for this winter. Public health officials also called on those facilities to take “concrete actions to ensure that every resident is educated on and offered an updated COVID-19 shot; that every resident who tests positive for COVID-19 is evaluated and offered treatment; and that every facility is taking steps to improve its indoor air quality.”