The popular mail-order program for the home kits will start as part of a broader winter preparedness plan.
By Adam Cancryn and David Lim
The Biden administration plans to reopen a partnership with the U.S. Postal Service to mail free at-home Covid-19 tests to households that request them, four people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
The revival of one of the government’s most popular and widely used pandemic programs comes as the administration prepares for another potential winter surge.
Biden officials paused the USPS program in early September over concerns that the high demand for free tests had put the administration on pace to deplete its stockpile before winter. They warned at the time the government could not afford to purchase more tests absent new funding from Congress, and needed to preserve the “limited remaining supply” for future Covid-19 surges. More than 600 million at-home tests had gone out to households across the country by the time the program was halted.
After a lull throughout much of the summer and fall, Covid cases have risen notably in recent weeks, worrying health officials that the U.S. could be on the verge of another wave. The White House now plans to announce that it’s reopening access to its stockpile of tests for a limited time as part of a broader “winter preparedness plan” it will roll out on Thursday.
Households will be then able to request the tests from COVIDTests.gov starting Thursday, too.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the program’s status, or disclose how many tests are left in the stockpile.
But one person familiar with the plan told POLITICO that the Department of Health and Human Services used limited funding, leftover from the American Rescue Plan, to purchase more at-home tests that can be distributed.
Weekly recorded Covid-19 cases reached a low of 261,268 in mid-October, but case counts have nearly doubled over the past two months, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. And public health experts caution that many infections are no longer logged due to the proliferation of at-home testing for the virus. Covid-19 deaths are also rising; 2,981 fatalities were recorded the first week of December, the first weekly increase since August.
The U.S. suffered significant surges each of the last two winters, straining hospitals and driving labor disruptions across the country. And hospitals are already under heavy strain from an early severe flu season and a wave of respiratory syncytial virus infections.
Biden health officials have insisted that the government has the tools to keep Covid under control, pointing to the widespread availability of treatments and updated vaccines. But fewer than 14 percent of eligible Americans have sought out the latest booster shot so far, including just 34 percent of people over the age of 65. States and localities in the meantime have lifted nearly all Covid precautions, and the administration has struggled to convince pandemic-fatigued Americans to remain vigilant.
The federal response has also suffered from a lack of funding. Despite months of warnings that its Covid operation is running out of money, Congress has refused to allocate additional funding to help bolster stockpiles of tests, treatments and vaccines.
The White House has requested more than $9 billion in Covid funding as part of the year-end funding bill. But in the face of staunch Republican opposition, there’s little expectation so far that lawmakers will include any new money for the pandemic.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect day for when households could begin ordering tests.
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