WASHINGTON — Americans will be able to request free rapid coronavirus tests from the federal government beginning on Wednesday, but the tests will take seven to 12 days to arrive, senior Biden administration officials said on Friday.
The administration’s website to process the requests, covidtests.gov, was up and running on Friday, the latest sign of its efforts to ramp up access to testing since the fast-spreading Omicron variant sent coronavirus case counts soaring.
The delay in processing orders and the delay in shipping means that people won’t receive the free tests before January 31st. This may happen in some areas of the country after the current surge in cases.
Last month, President Biden announced that his administration would purchase 500,000,000 rapid at-home coronavirus test kits and give them away free to all Americans. On Thursday, Biden announced plans for an additional 500 million tests to bring the total to one-billion. Already, 420 million tests have been ordered by the administration.
Each household will receive four free tests. According to officials, the Postal Service will be responsible for shipping and delivery via first-class mail. Some community health centers, rural clinics, and federal testing sites will offer free tests.
People with private insurance will be able to begin applying for reimbursement for tests they purchased themselves starting on Saturday, less that a week after the administration announced new rules. Each month, eight at-home tests will be covered by insurers.
The administration is also offering incentives to encourage insurers and retailers to work with pharmacies. This will allow people to get reimbursed at the time they purchase prescription drugs. Some insurers warn that it could take weeks to set up the system the White House wants.
The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to expand its testing capacity in response to the Omicron variant. This variant arrived in the United States shortly before Thanksgiving. It has caused chaos in hospitals across the country and has left them vulnerable to being overwhelmed in at least twenty-six states. Thursday’s announcement by Mr. Biden was that he would send military medical personnel to six states in order to provide relief for overwhelmed hospital workers.
The White House was harshly criticized for not having enough testing before the Omicron surge. Public health experts have urged the government to make better use coronavirus testing to help control the spread of this virus. They also advocated for a guaranteed market for diagnostics, by purchasing them directly from the manufacturers.
One of those critics, Dr. Mara Aspinall, an expert in biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University, called the president’s recent moves to expand testing “an important step forward,” and an essential acknowledgment of the importance of testing as a mitigation strategy.
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“You’ve got to give them credit for getting this done in less than a month,” she said, while noting that the seven-to-12-day time frame “is not ideal.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, testing has been a problem for the federal government. Because of the shortage of supply, they were hard to obtain and overloaded labs took days to process them. Biden, who was elected promising to improve testing, has made some improvements in expanding the supply for at-home tests. American consumers didn’t have access to any of these tests when he took office.
But the Omicron wave has put intense pressure on the nation’s testing capacity. The availability of at-home tests has decreased in many areas as they are no longer available on the shelves of pharmacies. Some consumers are not sure how to use them.
Friday’s confusion was clarified by administration officials. They stated three reasons why people should use at home tests: They have symptoms of Covid-19; or they were exposed to the virus five days or more earlier.
Access to at-home testing has been difficult due to limited availability. They are costly: they cost about $12 each or $24 for a set of two.
The administration has committed to ensuring equitable distribution of the tests. A White House fact sheet said the government would place a high priority on getting tests to “households experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of Covid-19 cases and deaths.”
Source: NY Times