Covid tests

A person is seen holding at-home Covid-19 test kits in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on December 17, 2021. (Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

Warning of Winter Surge, White House Revives Free At-Home Covid Test Program

"This is not one disease in isolation," said the president's Covid-19 response coordinator. "We are very aware that this increase that we're seeing in Covid is in that context of one of the worst flu seasons in a decade and RSV that was quite bad."

Amid rising fears of various illnesses going into the winter, the Biden administration on Thursday resumed its program for mailing four free at-home Covid-19 tests to every U.S. household that requests them.

"Starting today, every household can order four free Covid tests to be shipped straight to your door."

The free tests, which are set to start shipping via the U.S. Postal Service next week, can now be ordered online at or by phone at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

The administration launched the program in mid-January, nearly three years into the Covid-19 pandemic. After distributing more than 600 million tests, the administration halted the program in early September due to Republicans in Congress obstructing funds.

"We're able to reopen for a limited round because, in the absence of congressional funding, we've acted within our limited resources to buy more at-home tests for our national stockpile," a senior administration official said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Reviving the test program is part of the Biden administration's "winter preparedness plan" for Covid-19. The official explained that "our plan is focused on a few different things. First, making it even easier for Americans to access the tools we know work to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, or worse--like vaccines, tests, and treatments."

"Second, we're standing ready to support states and communities with personnel, supplies, and other resources to get more shots in arms and meet urgent clinical needs as they arise," the official continued. "Third, accelerating our efforts to protect the highest-risk Americans, in partnership with states, at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, starting with updated vaccinations."

Along with mailing more free tests and continuing to support access to them "in schools, community health centers, rural health clinics, long-term care facilities, and other convenient locations," the administration is "distributing free at-home tests at more than 6,500 Department of Housing and Urban Development-assisted rental housing properties serving seniors; and expanding a program to distribute free at-home tests to as many as 500 major food banks for them to distribute," according to a White House fact sheet.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Covid-19 cases "have risen roughly 55% over the past two weeks, while deaths have surged by around 65% in the same period. Hospitalizations have risen over 20%, adding strain to medical centers already deluged by cases of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV."

"Two Omicron subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, have largely driven the climb in coronavirus cases," the newspaper noted. "They now make up around two-thirds of cases in the United States and can dodge prior immune defenses more easily than other recent variants."

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, highlighted the various health threats facing the nation in an interview with CNNpublished Thursday.

"This is not one disease in isolation," he warned. "The stress on hospitals and stress on healthcare workers is because of all the respiratory pathogens. So we are very aware that this increase that we're seeing in Covid is in that context of one of the worst flu seasons in a decade and RSV that was quite bad."

As the network reported:

Evidence suggests, however, that RSV has "peaked," Jha said, with case numbers starting to come down "pretty quickly." Still, it will be a while before the impact of the virus is diminished, he said.


Jha declined to predict how many Covid-19 cases there might be this winter, but said data from the past few weeks make clear that numbers have been on the rise, likely driven in part by indoor gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday and the beginning of the winter holiday season.

"If somebody gets vaccinated tomorrow, they will have some protection by Christmas. But it's not like Christmas Day is the last day people socialize over winter," Jha said. "So getting vaccinated as quickly as possible, so you have protection for as much time as possible, is critical."

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