White House resumes program sending free COVID tests to households

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The White House is making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households again as health officials continue to caution about the spread of respiratory viruses.

The website COVID.gov/tests – as well as its U.S. Postal Service counterpart – was once again accepting orders from U.S. households after stopping in September due to insufficient funding to replenish the nation's stockpile. 

With case increases projected around the December holidays, the Biden administration said it would focus efforts on making pandemic tools more "widely available and accessible," including vaccines, tests and treatments. 

On Thursday, the government announced the "COVID-⁠19 Winter Preparedness Plan" ahead of an "increase in COVID-19 cases this winter." 

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In this photo illustration, free iHealth COVID-19 antigen rapid tests from the federal government sit on a U.S. Postal Service envelope after being delivered on Feb. 4, 2022, in San Anselmo, California.  ((Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) / Getty Images)

"While COVID-19 is not the disruptive force it once was, the virus continues to evolve, and cases are on the rise again as families are spending more time indoors and gathering for the holidays. Throughout the COVID-19 response, this administration has been prepared for whatever the virus throws our way – and this moment is no different," the White House said.

The plan includes the "limited round" of test ordering, with households allowed to order a total of four at-home COVID-19 tests.

Orders will begin to ship the week of Dec. 19.

In addition, more free tests will be distributed to Americans at "trusted locations" with additional distribution programs.

President Biden speaks to African leaders gathered for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Washington.  ((AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) / AP Newsroom)

The administration said that the Administration for Community Living is awarding $125 million to help get additional resources to community health centers and aging and disability networks to support vaccination efforts, that it is collaborating with communities to open pop-up and mobile vaccination sites and that Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is sending a letter to all governors outlining key actions that he would like state leaders to take in the coming weeks.

The plan also will ready clinical personnel for deployment and pre-position critical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. 

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It said that the government has hundreds of millions of N95 masks, billions of gloves, tens of millions of gowns and over 100,000 ventilators stored and ready to ship out if and when states need them. 

Lastly, the White House said it would release a winter playbook for nursing homes and long-term care facilities, act to expand the pool of providers that may administer COVID-19 vaccinations, encourage hospitals to offer vaccinations to patients before discharge and expand access to high-quality masks. 

A senior administration official told The Associated Press that there have been no requests for assistance yet.

A visitor sits on a bench to look at artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s “In America: Remember,” a temporary art installation made up of white flags to commemorate Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington on Oct. 2, 20 ((AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) / AP Newsroom)

Official funding for the new tests has been reallocated from other virus programs and the official reportedly declined to detail how much is being spent on the new tests or from which programs they were diverted.

The administration has struggled to persuade most Americans to get updated bivalent and variant-specific booster shots this year.

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Also on Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee released a declassified report examining the Intelligence Community's response to the COVID-19 pandemic following a two-year investigation. 

The number of U.S. deaths has dropped this year, but there are still more than there were before the coronavirus hit. Current reports suggest deaths may be down about 3% from 2020 and about 7% from 2021. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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