Anticipating a winter surge of Covid-19, the Biden administration announced Wednesday that it would renew a program that offers free coronavirus tests by mail to Americans and spend $600 million to buy the tests from a dozen domestic manufacturers.
Website for the project, covidtests.gov, will begin accepting orders on Monday, and families will receive four tests. Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the money will fund the purchase of 200 million tests to replenish the nation’s stockpile as tests are shipped.
But a byproduct of the plan, Ms O’Connell said, is that it will boost domestic manufacturing capacity in the event of another serious coronavirus outbreak. He said the department has given permission to manufacturers to sell the tests directly to retailers ahead of the government if demand increases.
Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise in the U.S., though they remain low compared to earlier stretches of the pandemic, and free tests are now hard to come by for many Americans. Private insurers were previously required to provide eight at-home tests per month, a requirement that ended when the Biden administration allowed the public health emergency for the coronavirus to expire in May.
The administration first began offering free at-home coronavirus tests through the postal service early last year after the Omicron variant caused a spike in cases. More than 600 million tests were distributed before officials halted the program in late summer, citing a lack of funding. The administration began offering the tests late last year before halting the program again this spring.
The announcement came Wednesday as President Biden’s Health Secretary Xavier Becerra tried to drum up interest in newly approved coronavirus vaccines by stocking his own Covid and flu vaccines at a CVS pharmacy in Washington. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week that all Americans 6 months and older receive at least one dose of the recombinant Covid vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
With the chief executives of Pfizer and Moderna standing by his side, Mr. Becerra called his own mother, who was about to turn 90, and said she did not have Covid-19.
“I can hug and kiss my mother and not be responsible for her getting sick. I feel comfortable after getting the shots,” he said, adding, “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”