As the holiday season approaches and concerns mount over a potential winter surge in COVID-19 cases, the US government has once again made free at-home COVID-19 tests available for order through the website covidtests.gov.
This initiative aims to provide households with essential tools to navigate the ongoing pandemic, especially in light of the approaching festive gatherings.
Navigating the Pandemic
The reopening of covidtests.gov follows the conclusion of the public health emergency last spring, which had mandated insurance companies to cover up to eight tests per month.
Now, the website stands as one of the few remaining avenues for Americans to obtain free at-home rapid tests.
With the return of winter comes the anticipated resurgence of COVID-19, as indicated by modeling data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Health officials are bracing for a similar number of hospitalizations this year, with the previous winter peak reaching nearly 45,000 hospitalizations per week.
The test ordering site was relaunched last month, offering four tests per household. As an added measure, households that have already placed an order are now eligible for an additional four tests, while those who have not yet ordered can receive a total of eight tests per household this fall.
Since September, approximately 14.5 million households have ordered tests, resulting in the shipment of a total of 58 million tests, according to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a department within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Health officials express hope that individuals will take advantage of these free tests to enhance their preparedness for socializing with others, particularly those who may be more vulnerable to the virus, during the upcoming holiday season.
Free COVID-19 Test Program Ahead of Winter Surge
The availability of free at-home tests has been intermittent since the winter of 2022, coinciding with the emergence of the omicron variant. The government site was initially launched in response to President Joe Biden’s commitment to distribute 1 billion free rapid tests to address the surge in demand.
However, political disputes led to temporary closures, with concerns over the allocation of COVID-19 funding and skepticism from conservatives about continued financial support for pandemic responses.
The current relaunch of the testing site is part of a $600 million investment in domestic test manufacturers, expected to yield around 200 million tests to replenish the federal stockpile. Tests ordered from covidtests.gov will be drawn from this stockpile.
Funding for the $600 million investment comes from money remaining from a past supplemental COVID-19 bill. Despite the debt ceiling deal over the summer reclaiming some unspent relief funds, administration officials assert that there is still sufficient funding available to contribute to restocking testing supplies this fall.