The White House on Thursday announced a COVID-19 'winter preparedness plan', including free at-home tests, to fight the virus as cases and hospitalizations across the country surge.
Households are now able to get four tests, which will be mailed to them beginning next week. The plan includes distributing free tests to rental housing and to as many as 500 food banks.
The program provided more than 600 million tests across the country. The distribution of tests was suspended in the fall because the administration couldn't afford to continue COVID-19 support without additional funding from the Congress.
The new round of tests is being paid for with funds from the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill of 2021, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Wednesday. Renewing the program suggests that the federal government still has funds it can draw on for the pandemic response, despite its pleas to Congress for more funding.
The Biden administration has asked for more than $9 billion in additional funding for the pandemic response, but Republicans have resisted calls for more COVID-19 spending, arguing that the administration has demonstrated it can repurpose federal funds for virus-related needs.
The administration also plans to set up 15,000 free community testing sites nationwide. Senior administration officials said the plan includes offering governors help with mobile and pop-up vaccination sites and releasing a pandemic guide for nursing homes.
COVID-19 cases have begun rising in the U.S. in recent weeks, with nearly 459,000 cases reported the week of Dec 7 and nearly 3,000 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hospitalizations have risen more than 20 percent, adding strain to medical centers already deluged by flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has sent letters to governors telling them to prepare for a surge in cases and reminding them of federal assistance, including vaccination, testing sites, and programs in which people can be tested and receive treatments.
The plan also includes providing medical supplies like masks gloves and gowns from the Strategic National Stockpile andoffering more support to nursing homes and long-term care facilities to protect the most vulnerable. Nursing home staff are now able to administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents.