The Biden administration on Wednesday will begin accepting orders for free at-home Covid-19 tests, the latest government response to a record number of infections.
Each US household that asks for tests via CovidTests.gov, or by phone, will receive four kits drawn from a 500-million-test order approved by President Joe Biden in December.
The administration expects the tests to initially be delivered by the US Postal Service in seven to 12 days, though shipping may move faster as the program unfolds. The administration believes the website and Postal Service are prepared to meet demand, officials said.
The move comes as the fast-spreading omicron variant has caused demand for tests to soar, leaving many Americans facing long lines at testing centres and empty shelves at stores selling at-home kits.
The administration has signed contracts for 420-million tests, including agreements to spend $1.3bn to buy tests from iHealth Labs Inc., $340m from Roche Diagnostics Corp., and $306m from Abbott Rapid Dx North America.
Contracts for the remaining 80-million tests will be finalised in the coming days, one official said. The program will cost an estimated $4 billion for the 500-million tests, the official said.
The tests are just the first tranche being purchased by the federal government. Biden said Thursday that his administration would buy another 500-million tests. He pledged that the administration would “continue to work with the retailers and online retailers to increase availability.”
The test purchases are among the steps the White House is taking to expand test availability. Federal testing sites have expanded around the country, and the administration is requiring private health insurers to pay for up to eight tests a month beginning Saturday.
An Economist/YouGov poll released Thursday found that 53% of American said they would request free tests if they were available, while another 20% said they were unsure. The percentages of Democrats and vaccinated Americans who said they would request tests were even higher — 72% and 63%, respectively.
The poll also found that among the one-in-five Americans who have sought at-home tests, nearly half said they had difficulty acquiring them.
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