The White House said Tuesday that Americans are now eligible for a third order of free home coronavirus tests shipped via the Postal Service. The move doubled the total number of tests the program made available to each household to 16.
The tests, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and available on the federal website covidtests.gov, extend a promise made by President Biden at the height of the winter surge of Omicron, when Americans were faced with stockpiles of tests few, empty shelves and long queues.
Under fierce criticism of those shortages, Mr. Biden pledged a billion home tests, and his administration secured commitments for hundreds of millions of them. The White House said half of them would be distributed through the Postal Service program. More than 70 million U.S. households — more than half the nation’s households — have ordered tests this way so far, and about 350 million tests have been delivered.
The opportunity to order more tests comes at a still perilous time 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 on Monday, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also increasing, by 26% nationally in the past two weeks. New deaths from the virus have fallen to around 300 a day on average – in part a reflection, public health experts say, of the protection against serious illnesses that many Americans have gained by getting vaccinated or overcoming a past coronavirus infection.
Rapid home tests, which typically provide results within 15 minutes, have become more widespread and accessible at pharmacies, making the total number of virus cases in the country harder to track. People who test positive using home tests usually do not report the results to local health departments, so many new infections go unaccounted for.
Still, with the spread of more transmissible forms of the virus in recent months, testing continues to be essential resources for many Americans, including those who can quickly diagnose infection and receive antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid.
The number of Paxlovid classes being delivered has increased by more than 300% in the past month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said Tuesday the new round of home testing was an important resource to help people avoid spreading the virus.
“Are you going to a big gathering? Use rapid tests so you’re not the person bringing Covid to the party,’ Dr Jha said wrote on Twitter. “Visiting a vulnerable relative? Use quick tests to protect them.
The White House has warned that without more congressional funding, the administration may not be able to “support” domestic test manufacturing this year, which could lead companies to cut production and make the country more blind to the virus if the demand for tests were to surge and not be met.
Manufacturers continue to be able to produce the tests, according to Mara Aspinall, a biomedical diagnostics expert at Arizona State University who sits on the board of OraSure, which does coronavirus testing. Manufacturers who have received federal authorization could perform about 422 million rapid home tests this month and 402 million next month, up from a peak of 535 million in February, according to figures collected by Ms Aspinall.