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US to again offer free COVID tests ahead of respiratory virus season

US to again offer free COVID tests ahead of respiratory virus season

Americans will again have an opportunity to receive free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests from the US government, with orders beginning next Monday, September 25, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.

Households will be eligible to receive four free rapid tests that will “detect the currently circulating COVID-19 variant,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in an announcement. The tests, available next week via and expected to start shipping on October 2, are meant to help Americans detect COVID-19 and keep from spreading it for the rest of the year—especially during holiday gatherings.

“At this point, our focus is getting through the holidays and making sure folks can take a test if they’re going to see Grandma for Thanksgiving,” Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the HHS, told the Associated Press.

But, beyond the upcoming gatherings and respiratory virus season, the HHS also noted that the free tests will “include clear instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates.”

The tests will be released from the Strategic National Stockpile; their distribution marks the fifth time the government has provided free tests to American households. So far, the US has provided over 755 million to households, with an additional 500 million going to long-term care facilities, low-income senior housing, uninsured individuals, and underserved communities.

The reopening of is coupled with an announcement of a $600 million total investment in 12 domestic COVID-19 test manufacturers. The investment deals require the companies to maintain rapid test manufacturing capacity in the event of future surges. It also stipulates that the government will get about 200 million rapid tests in the near future to replenish the stockpile.

“These critical investments will strengthen our nation’s production levels of domestic at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and help mitigate the spread of the virus,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the announcement.

While officials look to mitigate a potential COVID-19 this winter, transmission is increasing due to a late summer wave that hasn’t yet declined. The absolute numbers of hospitalizations and deaths are low compared with previous waves, but trends are still on an incline, as they have been for weeks, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The announcement of more free tests also comes amid the fall COVID-19 vaccination campaign, now underway with the recently updated vaccines targeting the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. Unlike the free tests, this is the first round of vaccines that are not paid for and distributed by the government. And the rollout has been bumpy so far. There have been numerous reports of pharmacies canceling vaccination appointments because they’ve run out of doses. Many people have run into billing problems, with insurance plans being slow to update their billing codes to include the new vaccine, leaving customers to see $200 bills for shots that are required to be covered at no out-of-pocket expense.

The snags are expected to get ironed out in the coming days, and Moderna and Pfizer have reported that they believe they have enough supply. According to recent polling, more than half of US adults say they will definitely or probably get the new shot this fall.

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